Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review: "House of Flying Daggers" is a Martial Arts Spectacle (Happy B'day, Ziyi Zhang)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 71 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Shi mian mai fu (2004)
International English title: House of Flying Daggers
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  China/Hong Kong; Language: Mandarin
Running time:  119 minutes (1 hour, 59 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sequences of stylized martial arts violence and some sexuality
DIRECTOR:  Zhang Yimou
WRITERS:  Feng Li, Bin Wang, and Zhang Yimou
PRODUCERS:  William Kong and Zhang Yimou
EDITOR:  Long Cheng
COMPOSER:  Shigeru Umebayashi
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Ziyi Zhang, and Dandan Song

The subject of this movie review is Shi mian mai fu, a 2004 Chinese and Hong Kong wuxia film that is known in English as House of Flying Daggers.  A romantic drama and martial arts-fantasy, the film is directed by Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern).  House of Flying Daggers follows a police captain and the beautiful member of a rebel group he breaks out of prison.

China, 859 A.D. – it is near the end of the Tang Dynasty, and corrupt leaders rule over the country.  However, a revolutionary faction known as the Flying Daggers challenges authority, robbing from the rich to give to the poor.  Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau), two police detectives, believe Mei (Ziyi Zhang), a blind dancer, is a member of the group.  They hatch a plan for Jin to pretend to be a rebel-of-sorts who rescues Mei from jail.  He then accompanies her to the north country in the hopes that she will take him to the House of Flying Daggers.  However, Mei’s beauty bowls over Jin, and he finds himself determined to protect her on their perilous journey; on the other hand, it seems as if no one is who he or she says he or she is.

As a follow up to his internationally acclaimed film known as Hero (2002, but released wide theatrically to U.S. audiences in 2004), director Zhang Yimou once again delves into China’s legendary martial past in Shi mian mai fu or House of Flying Daggers.  House of Flying Daggers is similar to the 2002 film except that House is more like a musical poem with romantic trappings, with romance having both the modern connotations and its 19-century literary and artistic meanings.  Hero was an epic tale of espionage, romance and revenge that looked at China’s mythical past as a celebration of Chinese nationalism.  Flying Daggers is more emotional; the stunning cinematography (by far the best of 2004), the luxuriant costumes, the abundantly colorful back drops are meant to evoke feelings more than to get the viewer to think about the film’s surprising plot twists and turns.

Action choreographer Tony Ching Siu-Tung, who worked with Yimou on Hero, once again turns in some delicious fight scenes that are different from his work in Hero and meant to fit the mood and impressionistic flavor of Flying Daggers.  The cast is also quite good, and it’s a shame that Ziyi Zhang was once again ignored by Oscar, as she was for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  She has a wonderful talent for playing dualities:  coy to aggressive, innocent to beguiling, weak to strong, and helpless to fully capable.  Her face is a small mask, capable of a seemingly endless array of subtle shifts that embellish both the character and the story.  Takeshi Kaneshiro, who almost gets lost next to Ziyi Zhang, plays Jin with his heart on his sleeve and his soul open for the audience to see the conflicting emotions within him, a performance that really drives this film’s tricky plot.

House of Flying Daggers is a visually arresting film (frame after frame of breathtaking, mind-bending beauty), maybe more so than Hero.  However, the film does seem to dry up on several occasions, and the script is careless with some of the character motivation.  Still, the film’s intense and overwhelming visual beauty makes it a must see for lovers of cinema, and fans of Asian cinema and hot martial arts will also certainly like this.

8 of 10


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Updated: Sunday, February 09, 2014

2005 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Xiaoding Zhao)

2005 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Foreign Language Film (Hong Kong)

2005 BAFTA Awards:  9 nominations: “Best Film not in the English Language” (William Kong and Yimou Zhang), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Ziyi Zhang), “Best Cinematography” (Xiaoding Zhao), “Best Editing” (Long Cheng), “Best Production Design” (Tingxiao Huo), “Best Costume Design” (Emi Wada), “Best Sound” (Jing Tao and Roger Savage), “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Angie Lam, Andy Brown, Kirsty Millar, and Luke Hetherington), and “Best Make Up/Hair” (Lee-na Kwan, Xiaohai Yang, and Siu-Mui Chau)

2005 Image Awards: “Outstanding Independent or Foreign Film”

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