|House of Flying Daggers (2004)
Starring: Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro
Director: Zhang Yimou
It’s now official that all fans of Asian cinema are eternally indebted to Quentin Tarantino. Thanks to the huge success of the outlandish director’s “Kill Bill” series and his more recent re-marketing of the cinematically picturesque “Hero,” moviegoers can now see new Asian releases in their big screen glory without having to sell a kidney just to pay for some poorly transferred bootleg edition on eBay. “House of Flying Daggers,” Zhang Yimou’s second trip into the wuxia genre, is an intense rush of bright colors, fast-paced action and twisting plot turns, but the story's core romantic love triangle is something that Shakespeare would truly be proud of.
“Flying Daggers” takes place in 859 A.D. as the ruling powers of the Tang Dynasty come to a close and a cult underground resistance known as the House of Flying Daggers begin to gain political and geographical control throughout a small part of the country. Two military captains, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau), are sent on an undercover mission to woo Mei (Zhang Ziyi), a blind brothel entertainer who may know the whereabouts of the rebel hideout, but they both quickly fall in love with the beautiful girl and compromise the success of their operation. What the audience thinks they know about the three characters quickly evaporates after the first thirty minutes and secret identities are revealed through a series of unlikely confrontations until the heart-pounding conclusion that stunningly splashes a pure, snow-white-covered hilltop with bright red blood in a merciless battle to prove their love for one another.
Once again, it’s nearly impossible not to compare “Hero” to Yimou’s latest film, but the two are very different in many ways. While his first kung-fu film was more concerned with the importance of how style would advance the story, “Flying Daggers” employs its three main characters to drive both the plot and the inevitable tension that abounds throughout. “Flying Daggers” still mirrors its overall appearance after “Hero,” developing brightly colored wardrobes and eye-opening scenery for its primary playground, but it’s the story’s mysterious love triangle that fuels the flurry of emotions. Zhang Ziyi is utterly breathtaking as the light-footed blind dancer, but film veteran Andy Lau and up-an-comer Takeshi Kaneshiro are both equally entertaining as the conflicting captains.
The long-winded story doesn’t deliver nearly as many great moments as the director’s first shot at the ancient genre, but “Flying Daggers” is still a fantastic wuxia film and undeniably one of the best films of the year. It has top-notch acting, a beautiful cast, a stimulating story and some of the best cinematography you’ll never see from an American filmmaker. Limited in its release and not nearly as mainstream in its appeal, you must find “House of Flying Daggers” somewhere in your town before it leaps away.
The US release of “House of Flying Daggers” is probably the best Asian DVD release yet, with a brilliant 16x9 widescreen video transfer that makes the colorful visuals pop out on your TV screen. The bonus material for the film is far from exciting, with a majority of it still in its original Mandarin-language format, but the specials are fairly interesting to watch nonetheless. Headlining the single-disc release is a full-length audio commentary track with star Zhang Ziyi and director Zhang Yimou. Complementing the track is a 45-minute “Making-Of” documentary and a much shorter visual effects featurette, as well as storyboard-to-film comparisons and the less desirable “Lovers” music video. You’re not going to get much extra playtime out of this release, but who needs it when you have the rich visual cinematography of arguably the single greatest Chinese director in the history of film?