Watched Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers yesterday. All by myself, which is fast becoming my favourite way to watch movies. Just me in my head.
I loved Yimou’s Hero, which was a phenomenally visual experience. Flying Daggers tops that for meticulously choreographed fights, if not colour. Belongs to the Wuxia genre, Wikipedia tells me, with its trademark martial arts heroes.
859 AD. Feng Tian county, China. The House of Flying Daggers is a secret rebel society that robs the rich to give to the poor. Government lawkeepers, Captains Jin and Leo, have assassinated the leader of the Daggers and have now been ordered to kill the new leader within ten days. There is a new dancer in the Peony Palace, the local brothel. The Captains have information that the blind girl Mei is the daughter of the old leader, here to have her revenge. After first trying conventional methods of arrest and interrogation, they decide to approach it differently. Jin goes undercover as a lone warrior and rescues Mei and aids her escape, hoping that she will lead them to the headquarters of the Flying Daggers. Some things go to plan and some don’t.
That then is the bare bones plot. But it is how Zhang Yimou clothes it that is so remarkable. Early on, Captain Leo challenges Mei to a round of the Echo game and the scene is set lushly in tones of peach and turquoise. She stands surrounded by drums, and as he flings beans that ricochet off them, she must imitate the patterns. The sound is designed as well as everything else in the movie.
Later as the General’s men hunt down Mei and Jin, there is one prolonged, beautifully-choreographed battle in a bamboo forest, where the shoot is used in the most versatile of ways. Soldiers swing from the very tops of swaying trees, attacking the two and finally trapping them in a rather stunning-looking cage.
The plot twists and turns, and the tragic climax takes place with a blazing red-orange autumnal forest as backdrop. As the pitch rises, black clouds gather and pelt down snow, leaching the colour out of the scene, leaving behind snowwhite frames. Inevitably, the virgin snow is soon sullied. Blood is spilled in an orgy of machismo and the tale breathes its last.
On the whole, I liked Hero more. There was greater control there, I think; it was tauter and altogether more deliberate. In Flying Daggers, emotions descended too easily to melodrama and for all its beauty, it was less noble.