Zhang Yimou 's HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Zhang Yimou (Hero, The Road Home, Not One Less) outdoes himself in this sumptuous combination of Tang dynasty era martial arts, romance, changing seasons, terrific clothes, bamboo forests, and physics-defying flying objects (and people).
It is a heady brew. From the start we realize that this film is unusual. The "Echo Dance" performed by Ziyi Zhang (Hero, The Road Home), surrounds us with artfully integrated CGI, wire based movement, flying beans, and stunning surround sound. The tiniest details are shown - watch the tiny cloud of dust kicked up whenever a tossed bean thumps against a drum head.
There is constant left to right movement. Once the story leaves the city, we spend most of our time outdoors, in fields or in forests. Photography is spectacular, with seasonal changes (leaves, snow, sky) taking full advantage of the wide screen imagery.
But this is also a love story, and the concentration on the three main characters -- and the plot twists -- makes this movie much more than eye candy. The plot isn't really that complicated, but the overall execution is, to use a word, artful. Gratifyingly, the story and likable characters serve to reinforce the imagery, unlike the soul-less eye candy in the same director's Hero.
Sometimes the whole package is almost overwhelming. During the bamboo forest attack, for example, with the attackers swinging gracefully through tree tops while our lovers run and dodge the myriad pointed sticks raining down on them, I sensed I was witnessing something so unusual it was taking place on another planet (and I've seen a fairly good number of Chinese films due to their availability on Region 1 DVDs).
It also helps while watching this movie to suspend belief in the laws of physics especially when we watch closely how daggers and arrows fly through the air.
The are two interesting documentaries, one on the making of the movie, and one on the CGI.
The best extra is the full length commentary by director Zhang Yimou and star Ziyi Zhang. You get the impression of two very hard working professionals who really love what they do, and along the way they provide fresh insight into what they experienced while making the movie. I especially enjoyed their laughing comments about how they provided visual cues to help Western audiences tell the differences between characters since Asians "tend to look alike" to Westerners. Gee, thanks!
A final comment concerns the music and sound. Both are well reproduced on this DVD. Surround and subwoofer effects are impressive, especially during the Echo dance.