In the same breathtaking scope as Zhang's last film, Hero (which finally hit the states this past year, after a two year distribution battle), House of Flying Daggers manages to go even further than its predecessor had ever dared to go. Christopher Doyle's sweeping cinematography from Hero is gone, replaced with a more intimate tighter visual structure that suits the storyline, just as Doyle's award-winning photography did for the earlier film. Zhang has called Hero his warm-up exercise for Flying Daggers, and in making Daggers, he has created a more subtly romantic epic than Hero was.
Now don't get me wrong - Hero was a near great film - but Daggers takes Zhang's filmmaking to another, deeper level - at least in a visual and audible way. The twisting story of Mei, a young blind girl, with seemingly mystical fighting prowess, who happens to probably be the only daughter of a rebel band of freedom fighters. Mei ends up leading Jin, a soldier pretending to be her rescuer, back to the homebase of these rebels, The Flying Daggers. All the while these two fall in love, but on their trail is Leo, another soldier, out to destroy The Flying Daggers. Zhang tells us about this trio of fractured emotions in a lyrical, never-know-what-is-around-the-next-corner style that unfolds in a spectacular visualistic orgasm of light and sound.
Mei is played by one of the most beautiful women in the world, Ziyi Zhang (who has recently americanized her name by switching the order or her surname and given name around), who goes beyond her performances in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the aforementioned Hero, to a near-virtuoso crescendo of power and beauty combined. Mei's two would-be captors are played by the much underused Japanese Actor, Takeshi Kaneshiro as Jin and the much overused Hong Kong Actor Andrew Lau, as Leo. Kaneshiro, who was brilliantly electric in Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels (one of the greatest films of the 1990's) and Lau, last seen in the tense Hong Kong police vs. mob thriller, Infernal Affairs (which he also co-wrote and directed) both play off Ziyi Zhang's central interest, to create a vividly intense drama of swords and daggers and unknown loyalties - as well as a psycho-sexual tension usually reserved for much darker European films.
And I haven't even gone into the visual big bang that this film really is - the game of "echo" played in a lavishly adorned brothel, full of reds and golds and deep dark browns; the green-hued bamboo forest battle scene and the emotionally charged bloody-blizzarded finale are the highlights of this films incredible Art Direction, Cinematography and Sound & Visual Editing. Better than Zhang's Hero (or maybe a more apt discription is different, not better), House of Flying Daggers captures the senses just as deeply and, even though the screenplay never really goes too deep in a non-visual sense, crushes the emotions even more deliriously - of course, the story isn't even the point here, the lay of the land is what raptures our senses most deeply. [01/11/05]