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House of Flying Daggers  

This is quite a movie.   It’s another artful martial arts picture from Zhang Yimou, whose ‘Hero’ I wrote about last year.   Yimou is a true poet of the cinema, although I’ve read that this film is something of a laughingstock in China because of its operatic passions and ludicrous plot twists.   Some of the lines are indeed howlers (e.g., “I thought you were hot like fire, but you are actually cold like water”—maybe it lost something in the translation from the Mandarin).

The story is set in 859 AD during the decline of the Tang Dynasty.   A rebel group called the Flying Daggers is striking blows against the powers that be.   Two agents of said powers (Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro) conspire to trick a blind Flying Daggers agent (Zhang Ziyi) into leading Kaneshiro to the rebels’ headquarters.   A love triangle blooms.

In this genre the story is really just an excuse for the grand set pieces, and this film’s are like unto a waking dream: Ziyi dances undercover at an opulent brothel in a circle of drums that she must strike with her flowing robes; soldiers float through the crowns of bamboo trees casting spears down at our heroes; a gorgeous fall landscape transmogrifies into blinding, howling winter.  

The cinematography by Zhao Xiaoding has been nominated for an Academy Award and richly deserves to win.   However, the film’s been passed up for a Best Foreign Language Oscar.

- Jan 28, 2005 

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