|House of Flying Daggers
2004 - PG-13 - 119 Mins.
|Director: Zhang Yimou
|Producer: William Kong, Zhang Yimou
|Written By: Feng Li, Bin Wang, Zhang Yimou
|Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang ZiYi, Andy Lau
|Review by: Harrison Cheung
|Official Site: www.sonyclassics.com/houseofflyingdaggers/
Chinese director, Zhang Yimou, continues his transformation from drama to action director in the uneven but visually spectacular ‘House of Flying Daggers.’ Zhang is best known for his colorful and moody dramas which were the toast of film festivals around the world. ‘Red Sorghum,’ ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ and ‘Shanghai Triad’ established Zhang as China’s premiere director and launched the career of Gong Li. But ever since last year’s ‘Hero,’ Zhang has turned his attention to martial arts movies, inspired by the success of Ang Lee’s ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.’
Kaneshiro and Zhang figure out the way to the House of Flying Daggers
‘House of Flying Daggers’ (which sounds like a great name for a Benihana restaurant) is set at the end of China’s Tang Dynasty, around 890 A.D. In a preamble, we’re told that the dynasty has become corrupt and a group of freedom fighters, The House of Flying Daggers, is out to assassinate government officials. Jin (Taiwanese teen idol, Takeshi Kaneshiro), an undercover police officer, decides to help Mei (Zhang Ziyi of ‘Crouching Tiger’ and ‘Hero’), a blind dancing girl escape so that she can lead him to the leader of the Flying Daggers. And so begins a cat and mouse game of mistaken and misleading identities that launches the movie like an ancient Chinese version of ‘The Bourne Identity.’
The first half of the movie is stunningly beautiful and innovative. We’re in an era where martial arts choreography is becoming commonplace in movies thanks to the popularity of “The Matrix’ and ‘Kill Bill’ so it’s quite an accomplishment to be able to surprise an audience with something new. Zhang does an exotic Chinese dance where she bounces her long silk sleeves against a circle of drums. There is also an amazing bamboo forest battle that looks as if a troupe of gymnasts from Cirque de Soleil had turned into ninjas.
For all the visual spectacle of the first half of the movie, the second half is a major disappointment as the story shifts gears and turns into a sappy love triangle. The transition is clumsy and predictable, and there are some laughable scenes that looked as if director Zhang wanted to tack on a moody romance to finish off what began as an ancient Chinese political/martial arts thriller. No surprise then to find out that in Japan, this movie is titled “Lover.”
One of the funniest lines I remember from Steven Spielberg’s ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ was when the Chinese orphan, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), hollers at Indy (Harrison Ford) and would-be girlfriend, Willie (Kate Capshaw) when they try for a smooch during a gun battle, “No time for love!” That was something that I wanted to holler myself during the last part of ‘House of Flying Daggers.” There are a couple of implausible love scenes that take place in unbelievable locations – especially when enemy soldiers and daggers are flying around.
By the time the movie builds to an expected final battle between the government troops and the Flying Daggers, we’re sidetracked into a soap opera that tries to look like a cool martial arts showdown but ends up looking silly. Without giving too much away, a couple of key plot lines are abandoned – perhaps to be restored on DVD? This is a movie that would have benefited from Tarantino’s mock-cool direction or Ang Lee’s subtlety. As it stands, ‘House of Flying Daggers’ aims for romance and martial arts but ends up missing the mark on both.