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2004 Roundup
2005 Roundup
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"House of Flying Daggers"

Directed by Zhang Yimou.
Written by Feng Li, Bin Wang and Zhang Yimou.
Starring Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  12/20/04

Folks--

Well, I think I am done with wire-fighting extravaganzas.  From "Once Upon a Time in China" (I've only seen I and II) to "Iron Monkey" to "The Matrix" films to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" to "Hero", I have seen many of these mostly PG-13, tame-yet-artistically-beautiful "action" films and have been mostly satisfied and occasionally blown away by watching men and women flying around fighting each other to a bloodless demise, all the while getting caught up in beautiful scenery and even more attractive leads.

In "House of Flying Daggers" (not surprisingly, directed by "Hero" director Zhang Yimou), we get more beautiful people--played by superstar Andy Lau, superstar part two Zhang Ziyi, and superstar part three Takeshi Kaneshiro--that spend most of their time swordfighting in the countryside.  Two cops, Jin (Kaneshiro) and Leo (Lau), attempt to take down a rogue assassin company known as the House of Flying Daggers in a time long, long ago, and they think they have a lead with a local blind hooker named Mei (Ziyi).  So, Jin goes undercover as a rich playboy/professional killer and somehow convinces Mei to lead him to the House headquarters...but, in the course of their travels, the general of the country's army sends soldiers after the blind girl, not knowing that Jin--an agent of the same government--is already keeping tabs on the girl.  So, to keep up the act, Jin must fight against his own men to convince Mei to lead him to the Daggers' base.

Hey, "House of Flying Daggers" has some moments of very cool special effects, I won't lie.  And, I love watching Lau work (he also starred in one of my faves from a couple years ago, "Fulltime Killer"), so watching these people play out the string can be enough at times.  But there are long stretches--LONG stretches--in-between any action.  After Mei and Jin start their journey to the Daggers' base, you get the romantic angle mixed with an occasional killing spree, but then it's back to watching Mei and Jin walk around in the country.  There isn't much humor, there isn't any back-and-forth with a bad guy, or any other faction, so we stick mostly with watching Mei stumble around and Jin wondering what he should do to dig himself out of this horrible predicament.

And even when we do get some action, because this "mystical arts" drama genre is becoming so played out, nothing about "House of Flying Daggers" looks that fresh.  We get the requisite men-fighting-on-bamboo-trees bit; jump kicks seem to be executed over hilariously-long distances; arrows and daggers and flying swords rarely miss their mark.  Mei--even though she IS supposed to be blind--is quite accurate with her kicks and punches, but then becomes a mix of the traditional damsel-in-distress and Pam Anderson in "Barb Wire", becoming a cold-blooded harlet whenever the situation calls for it.  Because this is PG-13, "House of Flying Daggers" mostly traffics in the safe, non-threatening TV violence of something like an "Alias", without any real bone-crunching action but with a high-enough body count that even an action cynic will leave saying "well, at least a hundred guys got offed in the process."

I don't know, I just don't think these kinds of films explore any more ground than a "Hero" or the first "Matrix" film did.  As visual spectacle, "House of Flying Daggers" is nowhere near as lush as "Hero" was; as action spectacle, "Master of the Flying Guillotine" was better, and funnier, than "Daggers" ever gets to be.  And, the ending for "Daggers" is just fucking awful; in my theater on opening day, man, there were guys laughing during a bit where a fight lasts so long that the freakin' SEASONS change...and then, you get the obligatory character-has-bled-to-death-but-has-one-last-charge-in-them bit, too.  Wow, this ending was bad.  I don't want to give too much away, but anti-climactic doesn't even give you half the picture you need to see what I'm talking about.

In my professional opinion, you should skip this right now and catch "Hero" on DVD instead.  Then, retire from watching these films altogether.

Rating:  Rental

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09