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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   House of Flying Daggers  


House of Flying Daggers

Reviewed by 1. Soh Yun-Huei 2. Sinnerman

Chinese Title: Shi mian mai fu
Director: Zhang Yimou
Writing Credits: Li Feng, Wang Bin, Zhang Yimou
Cast: Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau, Kaneshiro Takeshi, Song Dandan
Genre: Swordfighting
Country: China, Hong Kong
Language: Mandarin
Year Released: 2004
Runtime: 119 min

1. Review by Soh Yun-Huei
Rating: ** ½ (out of four stars)

Continuing his trend of filming "pretty movies", director Zhang Yimou brings to the big screen yet another martial arts flick, two years after Hero. Although the visuals and production values are excellent, the storyline and acting leave much to be desired.

Set during the Tang Dynasty, House of Flying Daggers traces the power struggle between a rebel sect called the House of Flying Daggers and the corrupt, declining "government". Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are two police constables who suspect that the beautiful-but-blind star attraction, Xiao Mei (Zhang Ziyi), at the newly opened brothel called the Peony Pavilion, is actually an undercover operative of the House of Flying Daggers. Jin decides to go undercover and act as a sympathizer of Xiao Mei, breaking her out of prison, whilst Leo follows closely behind, in the hopes that she would lead them to the headquarters of the sect. However, love gets in the way, and secret agendas and alliances mean that nothing is actually as it seems.

House of Flying Daggers seems to be targeted toward a Western audience, because despite the few twists in the film, the narrative is much simpler and more straightforward than one would expect from the director of films like Raise The Red Lantern and To Live. Asian audiences weaned on martial arts films since young would scoff at the simplicity of the plot, and even more so at some of the hammy dialogue in the movie (which Western audiences won’t "appreciate" by reading the subtitles). The love story is also very superficial and character development very shallow, which hampers audiences from empathizing with the leads. This is exacerbated by the uneven acting from the leads, in particular Andy Lau, whose performance is forced and unnatural to say the least.

However, Zhang Xiaoding’s cinematography is breathtaking, aided by the lavish set and costume designs by the trio of Emi Wada, Han Zhong and Huo Tingxiao, and Tony Ching Siu Tong’s action choreography is as excellent as always, although there are scenes that are very reminiscent of either Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Thus, if you’re in the mood to catch a beautiful movie but are not too concerned about plot and character development, House of Flying Daggers will be a good choice. Just remember to leave the cinema before the terribly unsuitable English song by opera diva Kathleen Battle plays over the end credits.


2. Review by Sinnerman

The (sour) cream of the crop has gotta be Mr. Andy Lau. He had many, many, many of those "what say you" moments (read: Lord of the Rings’ Return of the King’s Aragorn). Those scenes simply defy reasons. Somebody please shove a Golden Horse up Lau's you know where. The hope is that he will then try less hard to do what he's never been born to do. Act.

The rest of the cast should not be left behind either....Something must be said about Zhang Ziyi's expressions. She either look like she had botox injected into her face, or she must really need some of them pills for constipation.

Jin Cheng Wu is not that much better. He might too have stolen some of them botox syringes left over by Zhang. Or the bitch might have tried to keep those pills all for herself (in view of the severity of her constipation).

Then my jaws was also dislodged by the many "action liao liao" sequences, where people posed before they make their moves. (Imagine my surprise when I suddenly flashbacked to that now classic Madonna Vid, "Vogue", while watching the fight scenes in this flick).

Finally, the infamous love scenes dotting this movie has convinced me this is a groundbreaking SFX film. Yimou must have instructed for all love scenes to be shot in total darkness and then digitally graded in the lightings. For even in such close proximity, the entwined bodies can't seem to look each other in the eyes. Something is very wrong there.

Unbelievably awful movie. And its not even funnee....AVOID!!