HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS
In 859AD, China's once flourishing Tang Dynasty is in decline. Unrest is raging and the corrupt government is locked in battle with rebel armies, such as the revered House of Flying Daggers, which is growing ever more powerful under a mysterious new leader. Two local captains, Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are ordered to capture the new leader and the two hatch an elaborate plan. Captain Jin will pretend to be a lone warrior called Wind and rescue the beautiful, blind revolutionary Mei (Zhang Ziyi), from prison, earning her trust and escorting her to the secret headquarters of the House of Flying Daggers. She might be that new leader... The plan works, but to their surprise, Jin and Mei fall deeply in love on their long journey. Danger lurks in the forest surrounding them, and secrets lurk in the hearts near them.
Review by Louise Keller:
Zhang Yimou uses the screen like a canvas. And on his canvas, he liberally splashes colours that are as visceral as the emotions they portray. House of Flying Colours is a breathtakingly gorgeous film that mesmerises through the complexity of its emotions of love, revenge, jealousy and betrayal. The martial arts sequences will make you gasp and are often closer to ballet than swordplay. At the film's heart is a tale about love and passion. Two men, one woman and a cause to which they all believe.
More emotionally satisfying than the marvellous Hero, House of Flying Colours introduces us to a handful of characters that are not what they seem. Set in 859AD, when China is poised on the brink of revolt, we meet a blind dancer and two government officials. The sumptuous sets and dazzling costumes of the early scenes when Zhang Ziyi's Mei dances before an intoxicated Captain, are replaced by landscapes that are so beautiful, they could have been fabricated by a brush. Ziyi looks like an ornate doll in this sequence that uses flowing pink scarves, floral drums and swords, and whether she is dancing or in the throws of the most complex martial arts pose, she is exquisite.
Former Taiwanese pop idol Takeshi Kaneshiro and Hong Kong's Andy Lau are compelling as the two men bewitched by Mei, and when they face each other in the final dramatic scene surrounded by nothing but snow, there is much at stake.
Vivid autumnal hues with their earthy tones are contrasted by the dramatic white of an unforgiving wintry white setting while the passions of new love are ignited and their consequences discovered. Flying Daggers is more than the name given to the revolutionary organization; these weapons soar through the air with deadly accuracy. The action is pure fantasy and while there are echoes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in the bamboo forest scene, when the lovers run through the trees as the enemy targets them from above the tree tops, the concept has been taken one step further.
A poetic and visual spectacle, House of Flying Daggers brings martial arts one leap closer to ballet, as it involves us in a tale that is both sensual and emotional.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Jumping forward almost 1000 years from the setting of his spectacular martial arts epic, Hero, Zhang Yimou revisits the Tang Dynasty. In Hero, it was the beginning of a Chinese empire, while with House of Flying daggers we're at the end of one. There isn't much by way of history lesson though, with the action limited to a microcosm of the troubles, and more concerned about the love triangle within.
Hero was seen by some as a revisionist history with contemporary communist power-holders influencing the subliminal message of 'the good of the community v the individual', and Flying Daggers also touches on that theme. In some respects, though, House of Flying Daggers is a politically ambiguous film; on the one hand it parades the primacy of society, but on another level it confirms the value of the individual. The latter is done more subtly, through emotional connections that are understated - but it's there, in a variety of subtle ways.
Romantics will no doubt ignore the politics and swoon at the idealised romance that is literally to die for . . . if you're one of the points of the triangle.
But the first thing to strike you in the film is that 9th century China is a vividly beautiful place (especially in autumn), and the clothing is remarkably rich, sophisticated and expensive. Glorious production design aside, the action story is accessible and modern: it's to do with betrayal. Love provides the spanner in the works, as usual, and there are sufficient red herrings to keep the fans of romantic novels on tenterhooks.
There is perhaps less martial arts than in Hero, and the fights are not quite as epic, but they are still enough to label the film as a martial arts flick. The stylised set pieces of action we came to enjoy in Hero are again the mainstay, delivered in a variety of ways, with some truly inventive touches. Some of these battle scenes are stretching the bounds of credibility, of course, but they aren't meant to be naturalistic displays but expressions of the spiritual forces that underpin the martial arts. Unless you are prepared to accept that, some scenes will seem ridiculous; but then wire work is beyond the physical limits, too.
The heroes have to fend off attacks from soldiers with swords, soldiers with bamboo spears, soldiers slithering down bamboo trees and booby traps with bamboo spikes. The green forest and wide fields of the action are visually stimulating, and the tension is held throughout. The performances from these acclaimed actors are gripping and real - more so, perhaps than the film's overall mood - and the drama is supported by their fine work. We respond to the conflicts of love and war, just as we recognise that tragedy is the currency of this story.
Email this article
HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (MA)
Shi mian mai fu
CAST: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi, Song Dandan
PRODUCER: Bill Kong, Zhang Yimou
DIRECTOR: Zhang Yimou
SCRIPT: Zhang Yimou, Fang Li, Bin Wang
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Zhao Xiaoding
EDITOR: Cheng Long
MUSIC: Shigeru Umebayashi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Huo Tingxiao
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Fenruary 17, 2005