Film Reviews


By • Dec 3rd, 2004 •

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Sony Pictures Classics / Elite Group Enterprises presents an Edko Films, Zhang Yimou Studio production in collaboration with Beijing New Picture Film Co.
No MPAA rating / Running time — 119 minutes

How come so many successful Chinese films that are distributed in the U.S. have blind people in them (ZATOICHI, THE KILLER, and now HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS)? I found an answer on the World Health Organization’s website. Here is an excerpt from an article titled: “Blindness as a public health problem in China”:

“China accounts for about 18% of the world’s blind. The country is estimated to have the largest number of blind people in the world – around 5 million. By definition, these people cannot walk about unaided.

“The country’s ever-increasing blind population has already surpassed the total population in such countries as Denmark, Finland or Norway.

“In China, blindness is not only a public health and social problem. Apart from the unspeakable suffering and hardship that it has brought upon these millions of people and their immediate families, this condition is a serious drain on the national economy. However, any attempt to arrive at the total direct and indirect costs of blindness to the Chinese economy will be guesswork. Such statistics do not exist in the country.”

Films never honestly portray blind people. If you believed Bryce Dallas Howard as spunky blind Ivy Walker in M. Night Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE, then you will believe Mei (Zhang Ziyi) is a sightless-since-birth star dancer at the Peony Pavilion brothel. The year is 859 and the Tang Dynasty is being threatened by rebel cabal known as the House of Flying Daggers. The leader of the Flying Daggers has been assassinated and Capt. Leo (Andy Lau) sends Capt. Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to arrest the former leader’s young daughter Mei, who is thought to now be in charge. Leo believes the head of the Flying Daggers is operating out of a brothel. Leo and Jin have ten days to capture Mei. Both Jin and Mei are arrested by Leo! Then Jin escapes and, as a mysterious character known as “Wind,” he rescues Mei. They fall in love while being pursued by Jin’s fellow soldiers. When they do meet the mysterious head of the House of the Flying Daggers, Mei is told to kill Jin. Then there’s the pesky problem of Mei’s other suitor.

Blindness and characters that are pretending to be other characters (INFERNAL AFFAIRS) seem to be major themes in Hong Kong films. Subterfuge and a mistrust of who a person really is must be alluring and chilling to Chinese audiences. Director Zhang Yimou is indeed a master, and unlike the stunningly beautiful HERO, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS has strong sexual tone. It is quite erotic for a wuxia film. As in HERO, the characters keep changing alliance and loyalties. Unfortunately, with FLYING DAGGERS, the double–crossing, triple-crossing of who is who becomes tedious.

It is near impossible not to be enamored with “wuxia,” as these marital arts movies are known. The genre is so gorgeous and skillfully executed that like cartoons, fairy tales, superheroes, and monster movies, we prefer to suspend our knowledge of the laws of reality and believe people are actually flying through the air, daggers can stop mid-air and change direction, dead people come back to life, and cute little girls can kick ass.

Kaneshiro has a strong European face that will certainly affect American female audiences. Once again, as in HERO, the costumes are outstanding in their lush detail and exquisite craftsmanship. The balletic battles are pure artistic magic; however, the story exhausted me. How about a simple, straightforward story next time? I don’t mind bending reality, but I am still hanging onto logic and a plot that holds together.

Director: Zhang Yimou
Screenwriters: Li Feng, Zhang Yimou, Wang Bin
Producers: Bill Kong, Zhang Yimou
Director of photography: Zhao Xiaoding
Production designer: Huo Tingziao
Action director: Tony Ching Siu-Tung
Music: Shigeru Umebayashi
Costume designer: Emi Wada
Editor: Cheng Long

Jin: Takeshi Kaneshiro
Leo: Andy Lau
Mei: Zhang Ziyi
Yee: Song Dandan

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