El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Sunday, December 12, 2004


Directed by Yimou Zhang
Written by Feng Li, Bin Wang & Yimou Zhang

The House of Flying Daggers is a revolutionary group that is trying to overthrow the Emperor’s regime during the Tang Dynasty. Their leader has recently been killed, providing a perfect opportunity for the authorities to bring the House down. There’s a rumor that the late leader’s blind daughter, Mei, is working at the Peony Pavilion, a local brothel. When her identity is discovered through an unbelievable, even by Asian film standards, and overly elaborate test, she is taken prisoner by Leo, an officer of the Emperor’s army.

Jin, who is a fellow officer with Leo, has been working undercover for the purposes of a sting operation. He has used the services of the Peony Pavilion and knows Mei. He breaks her out of the prison in hopes that she will lead him to the secret headquarters of The House of Flying Daggers. Leo and Jin have even staged an attempted capture to convince Mei of the ruse. The soldiers fall down easily and only administer mild bruises.

Unfortunately, their plan is so secret that other members of the Emperor’s army know nothing about it and pursue Jin and Mei when they learn of her escape. An escaped prisoner, especially one of her prominence, and her conspirator will surely be met with overwhelming force, but will Jin be able to battle against and kill fellow soldiers just for the potential opportunity to learn more about the House of Flying Daggers?

This film has some amazing action sequences that are now the new standard for future films. The amazing bamboo forest sequence and the final sword battle through the seasons are sheer artistic brilliance, although mere words cannot do them justice. Zhang tops the action from his previous work, Hero, a very good film that sat on the Miramax shelf for years for no good reason other than they employ idiots with no sense of good films, which certainly explains the Kill Bill atrocities. It’s one thing when I buy a movie and don’t watch it for a while. It’s entirely another when a studio does it.

While it all looks fantastic, the film strives for more. It goes from being a wuxia, or wire fu, martial arts film to a love triangle, but that didn’t work for me because I couldn’t accept any of the participants being in love with each other. The scenes between Mei and her previous lover do nothing to make you believe she would love him because of how terrible he treats her. On the other hand, Jin was supposed to pretend to fall in love with Mei to help gain her confidence, but with the stress of the situation and their time together he actually does, and she with him; however, once all the secrets are revealed, their love is equally unbelievable.

The story has some great twists in the plot, but the writers didn’t know when to quit because there are too many and like a rubber band that gets twisted too many times, the entire plot falls apart like a house of cards, much in the same way The X-Files no longer made any sense after the continual changes to its mythology regarding the government and the aliens. Some plot points that I originally thought were well written as I watched the film were no longer plausible once I learned what the characters knew.

Even with the plot issues I had, the cinematography and action sequences are so well done that they compensate for the story flaws and make this film well worth seeing on the big screen. Don't wait for this on video unless you have a state-of-the-art system.


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