House of Flying Daggers

Well that was disappointing, especially after Zhang Yimou’s excellent Hero. I thought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was also much better, whatever the criticisms of my Chinese friends. All of that talent wasted with a script missing in action. Although I won’t reveal major plot points, if you plan to watch it you may not want to read on.

It started well. The echo game at the beginning was wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the fights up to the battle in the field. One scene has Jin and Mei surrounded by soldiers with shields and swords; they flow back and forth through the waving grass. I suddenly thought: synchronized swimming, and laughed. The best scenes in other action films – the fight at the calligraphy school in Hero, the wall fight in Crouching Tiger – are like that: their cleverness makes me smile with surprise.

And then the film faded. Our heroes ran and fought, ran and fought again. Finally they reached somewhere; then revelation followed revelation rather than fight following fight. The secrets were forced, inorganic, ex machina. The fighting recommenced. Blood and violence overtook the beauty of the dance. By the ending (in another nameless field – the film is beautiful, but lacks all sense of place), which tried so hard to tug on emotions, the audience laughed at the absurdity of it all. The story was bare; it was all pointless in the end.

2004-12-18

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