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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen

House of Flying Daggers

I finally caught Yimou Zhang's House of Flying Daggers this weekend because I knew that if I didn't see it now, it would leave the theaters and I would never get the chance to see it on the big screen. And I'm sure glad that I did. Daggers is a twisting journey through a vibrant landscape of sight and sound superior to his 2002 film, Hero.

Ziyi Zhang (the young woman from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) plays a blind courtesan named Mei who is involved in a complex plot between the corrupt government and a band of rogues known as the Flying Daggers. Exploring the themes of love, honor and desire against this backdrop of political and personal intrigue, we discover her relationships with Jin, played with style and charm by Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Leo, who is much less convincingly portrayed by Andy Lau.

Like Hero, Daggers is a visual feast. His use of color is exceptional, and the movie's climax is intensified by the transition from the verdant green of the bamboo forest, to the golden browns of autumn and into the stark white of winter. The use of slow motion is appropriate (unlike Hero), the cinematography inspired, and the the music is as intense as the visuals. House of Flying Daggers attempts to realize the same sort of pure, cinematographic beauty that Hero does, but does so in a much more successful way because it is more accessible. The visuals enhance the story instead of distracting us from it.

On the down-side, there are at least two scenes that are blatant imitations of Crouching Tiger which cheapens the actual achievements of this very good film. As well, it does not provide us with ample justification for many of the more stylized scenes. Sure, it looks cool to have guys jumping from tree to tree, hurling sharpened bamboo spears at their quarry, but why? One of the reasons Crouching Tiger was so successful, in my opinion, is that it accepted the magical nature of its wire fu and allowed the audience to focus on the story.

Overall, the movie was thoroughly enjoyable, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre.

BSR (Base Show Rating): 7/10
Applicable Modifiers:
  • -1 if you saw Crouching Tiger
  • +1 if you liked Hero
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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.