Sunday, 30 November 2014

House of Flying Daggers (5 Stars)


When a good man loves a woman he wants to serve her. When a bad man loves a woman he wants to possess her.

After the big success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" at the 2001 Academy Awards, unprecedented for a foreign language film, the moneymakers in the back rooms were anxious to cash in on the Chinese film trend. They needed to find the next big thing. It took them a while, but finally they stumbled on the director Zhang Yimou. It must have been difficult for those guys, because they're not real film fans. They just sit and look at spreadsheets of box office takings, and when a number stands out they jump up and shout, "I've found a good film".

"House of Flying Daggers" was the first film directed by Zhang Yimou that I saw. Despite being made two years later than "Hero", it was shown before "Hero" at my local cinema. I went to see it at the Odeon on New Street with my two daughters. As I remember, they were overwhelmed  and didn't know what to make of it. It was too different to anything they had seen before. I personally knew what to expect, and I was blown away. It's a stunning tragedy of epic proportions, with dazzling imagery underlining every nuance and every plot twist.

The film takes place in 859 AD. The Chinese Tang Dynasty is struggling to hold onto power, and a particular annoyance is a rebel group called the Flying Daggers. Leo and Jin, two local police captains, are given the job of finding and capturing the Flying Daggers' new leader. Mei, a blind girl who works in a nearby brothel, is suspected of being the daughter of the the old leader. To gain her confidence Leo first arrests her, then Jin frees her from prison. Jin pretends to be in love with Mei, and together they Mei ride north to meet the Flying Daggers.

That alone would make a good plot, but there are multiple layers of lies and deceptions which we learn during the film. As I already stated above, the film is a tragedy, and in tragedies the good guys don't win, the good guys die. It's been about five years since I last watched the film, and today it was like I was rediscovering it. It really ought to be rated among my top 10 favourite films. I need to take time to rewrite my list.

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