House of Flying Daggers

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     It's funny how you don't notice how similar all American films of a certain genre are, but in foreign films you notice it right away. If you see a few films starring Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers), the similarity of Chinese historical action/romance films really hits home. All of these films tell the story of Chinese heroes from the past who have amazing fighting powers. They can fly; they can walk on water; they can pluck arrows out of the air. But when it comes to romance, they are as unlucky as the rest of us. Well, they are unluckier, since the movies invariably end with the death of one or more of the lover-heroes. Zhang's newest film is no different. House of Flying Daggers tells the story of a group of freedom fighters who are trying to rebel against the Emperor of China a thousand years ago. A young blind woman (Zhang Ziyi) is suspected by the police of being a member of the rebel group. An undercover policeman (Takeshi Kaneshiro) befriends Zhang and pretends to help her escape from the soldiers and police who waylay her as she tries to return to the House of Flying Daggers. A second policeman (Andy Lau) is following them and helping with their plan to use Zhang to lead them to the leader of the rebellion. But nothing in House of Flying Daggers is as it seems and soon a love triangle among Zhang and the two policemen is messing up their politics. I won't give away anything more about the plot but much swordplay is involved.

    Ziyi Zhang burst onto the scene in 2000 as the young hero and total babe in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But mostly she has been making films for one director, Yimou Zhang. His actress/muse/girlfriend used to be Gong Li, who starred in several of his films such as Raise the Red Lantern. Since Yimou Zhang and Gong Li broke up in 1995, Yimou seems to have picked Ziyi as his new actress/muse/girlfriend. She has appeared in three of his movies, starting with The Road Home (not a martial arts film, it is more of a normal romance story), which she made before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and also the recent, Hero. Zhang Ziyi is good as always in House of Flying Daggers, as are her co-stars, Kaneshiro and Lau. There are some amazing scenes as usual, particularly those shot in a bamboo forest. Needless to say from the title of this movie, daggers are flying everywhere. And so are arrows, spears and swords. But the whole "bullet time" thing, where we ride along with the bullet/arrow/spear, first seen in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and reaching its peak in The Matrix, seems a bit old now. I don't think House of Flying Daggers is as good as Hero and it is not even in the same class as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Hero was a cinematographers dream. And Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon combined a great story with great acting. House of Flying Daggers didn't have enough of either. So this one can wait until you can't find something to rent some Saturday night.