More than daggers fly in this house
There’s just something about watching soldiers fly across a bright green bamboo forest that commands your attention more than even the most gripping of Hollywood’s gun-fighting sequences.I’m not a fan of violence in general, but when it is delivered as poetically as the sword duels and battle scenes in “House of Flying Daggers,” there is something unsettlingly beautiful about it.From “Hero” director Yimou Zhang, “House of Flying Daggers” brings a visual bouquet of dancing and fighting, and also a plot of character twists that probably becomes a little bit too knotted.
While researching the film, more than once I was compelled to type in a search for “House of the Rising Sun,” and for good reason.Mei ( “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” star Ziyi Zhang) is the newest member of a popular brothel in China during the end of the Tang Dynasty. She is blind but beautiful, and is immediately coveted by Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a drunken soldier who frequents the house and who attempts to ravish Mei after she dances for him.Dancing is her specialty, and when another soldier, Leo (Andy Lau) arrives at the house and witnesses the struggle, he arrests both Mei and Jin, but tells Mei he’ll release her if she performs an intricate dance for him entitled “Echoes.”This scene is one of the most riveting in the entire film. The dance commences when Leo flicks a bean, which, in stylized fashion, floats in slow motion towards one of the drums which encircle Mei. To every thump the bean makes on a drumhead, Mei strikes a pose and launches the ultra-long sleeves of her gown towards the drums to thump a note in turn.
When her sleeve recoils with the soldier’s sword in tow, a highly aesthetic tussle ensues, and Mei is revealed as a member of the House of Flying Daggers, a group of notorious revolutionaries, each one of whom happens to be a martial arts protégé. The group wishes to overturn the corrupt Chinese government, and are considered by such to be an intense threat to the country’s future. After Mei is captured, the soldiers devise a plan. Jin will pretend to rescue her and she will lead him, and all of the government soldiers stalking the pair on their journey, to the leader of the Flying Daggers. As several scenes unfold with balletic skirmishes, breathtaking scenery, vibrant colors and, surprise, flying daggers, life’s greatest complication comes into the picture: love.In a less visually pleasing film, the veil-thin personalities of the characters and their not entirely convincing roles and relationships with each other might ruin the experience for me. However, since director Zhang is such a genius with his swooping, diving, back-flipping and sword-playing brand of visual stimulation, I really enjoyed the film.I did appreciate his attempts at complicated love triangles, though they never joined angles in any crisp way and ended up looking more like lopsided parallelograms. Also, there seems to be a trend for me in Asian films. Whether it’s understanding the legitimacy of the relationships between characters in “Flying Daggers,” the significance of vomiting ghouls in the critically acclaimed Japanimation hit “Spirited Away,” or why people light themselves on fire in the 2004 Korean masterpiece “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … And Spring,” there is always some element of every Asian film I see that flies right over my head. Then it does a cartwheel off the back wall, walks on the ceiling and boomerangs around the room and straight out of my visual field. But, hey, even amidst the confusion, the show itself is colorful, exotic, and, I have to admit, fascinating.
Note: “House of Flying Daggers” is in Chinese with English subtitles.Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado