Saturday 26 March 2005

House of Flying Daggers (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Chinese martial arts film in the same ballpark as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. What sets it apart is its opaque beauty and senseless sensuous lapses into set-pieces. The story plays tricks on you and twists like a dying shark towards the end, which can seem comic if you're in the wrong audience. (I was in amongst a class of German teenagers on a school trip to Oxford, so when they giggled at the Chinese language at the beginning, the signs were not good.)

While Hero was about the forging of an empire from disparate parts, House of Flying Daggers is about a regime in decline: the government is decadently corrupt. The "Flying Daggers" are the resistance movement who are being hunted down by the government's police officers.

There's something playfully postmodern about the elaborate feats of skill, such as the "Echo" game, in which a blind showgirl, Mei (Zhang Ziyi), dances in time to the beat of a pebble off an amphitheatre of drums, beating its rhythm in reply with her long sleeves; or the gang's trademark boomerang dagger throws, which find their targets like heat-seeking missiles.

There is a confusing love story between one of the police officers, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), and this blind girl, Mei, as he rescues her and goes undercover to infiltrate the "Flying Daggers". Confusing because the power is constantly shifting between the characters, but also between the film-makers (the Director is Yimou Zhang, whose last film was Hero) and their audience, who are not always clear about what they are seeing.

The ending is slightly disappointing, somewhat melodramatic and a little like the dynamic of a WWE wrestling world championship match or the climax of a Wes Craven movie.

Nugget: I'm sure I would have enjoyed this more if I'd been part of a more interested and respectful audience.

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