House Of Flying Daggers (2004)
Review Date: November 29, 2004
Director: Zhang Yimou
Writer: Zhang Yang, Li Feng, Wang Bin
Producers: Bill Kong, Zhang Yimou
Andy Lau as Leo
Zhang Ziyi as Mei
Takeshi Kaneshiro as Jin
The year is 859 AD and China's emperor is a no-gooder. The rebels in the townships aren't happy with the man and an underground called the House of Flying Daggers wants to remove him from his duties. To prevent them from doing so, an underling of the emperor's goes undercover to hook up with a cute, blind member of the "House", in the hopes that he can seduce her into leading them to their leader's headquarters. Along the way, the two find themselves falling for one another. But is their love for real or just part of some ploy? Long enough plotline for you? Swords, arrows, daggers and love ensues!
I've never been a huge fan of these "old school" Asian flicks, set "back in the day" when everyone was carrying swords and rebels were gung-ho on overthrowing the baddie Emperor and all that, but like most films, I went into this one with anticipation, hoping that something about it would either intrigue, excite, inspire or at the very least, entertain...for a period of two hours. But what starts off as a decent enough plotline turns into more of a romantic drama with spurts of martial arts action spread throughout, including plenty of bow and arrow stuff, as well as the precise and CGI-throwing of lots of kickass daggers. I enjoyed those bits quite a bit and actually would have preferred had the film stuck to its more action-oriented moments rather than its tepid romance, since the lovey-dovey stuff eventually just got too soap-opera-ish for my taste, with plenty of corn and cheese and all that fun stuff laid on thick. The film's final act, in fact, turns lazy, drifts away from one of the film's main focuses from earlier and throws a whole new curveball into the mix, centered around a character with whom we've barely had any contact before, and who we are suddenly supposed to care about within a newfound emotional entanglement. I didn't care about that character and I definitely wasn't invested in the so-called "love affair" between the lead characters, both of whom seemed too duplicitous to devote much sentiment.
Dialogue the likes of "I thought you were hot like fire, but you're actually cold like water" didn't help the film's lost romantic cause either. If you want to focus on the action, there were a handful of decent showdowns, but they weren't really mind-blowing, terribly original or as visually impressive as other such films, with an inordinate amount of CGI daggers/bamboo poles, taking me out of the action every now and again. One major sequence through bamboo trees also reminded me a little too much of CROUCHING TIGER, and despite a fun energy, ultimately didn't engage me entirely. An over-the-top sequence that starts the film off with a woman playing the drums with her sleeves (you read that right) also didn't impress, and actually had me laughing a little. The film's ultimate problem is its story though, with the third act feeling like it was written in an afternoon and the final head-to-head disappointing both in its action and emotional impact. It also takes place during a sudden freak snowstorm of sorts- a visual ploy obviously utilized to make the blood spurting look cooler in snow. Didn't really work. Like I said earlier, by this point, a lot of the stuff just started to feel a little too melodramatic and just didn't click for me. The actors were decent, especially the very lovely Zhang Ziyi, of whom I am a big fan (call me!), and the cinematography, very lush and colorful (the stuff in the "green forest" was sweet), but at the end of the day, not much about this film stood out for me and I can't say that it was a worthwhile 120 minute investment of my time. That said, it's still somewhat suggestable on video for anyone interested in the genre.
(c) 2013 Berge Garabedian