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House of Flying Daggers

House of Flying Daggers on DVD

With the release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a few years ago, the world of martial arts movies was changed forever.

Gone was the typical Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan-style punch-kick-bang-crash type of fighting, to be replaced by a more fantastic, graceful, anti-gravity type of fighting. The stories suddenly became more compelling, no longer sticking with the tried and true “nice guy gets wronged and seeks revenge” approach. CG was used more prominently, as well as a much wider array of weapons, rather than just hands and feet and the occasional ladder.

Hero upped the ante. And now House of Flying Daggers ups it again. It is a glorious movie in every sense of the word, gripping and breathtaking from minute one to minute 119.

We meet Mei (Zhang Ziyi), a beautiful blind dancer, at the Peony Pavilion (some sort of ancient mix between brothel, hotel and music hall). She’s brought in to dance for Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a police officer, but people begin to get suspicious due to her unmatched abilities. Plus, the leader of the House of Flying Daggers happens to have a blind daughter who reportedly ran away, so it doesn’t take long to put two and two together.

Jin and Leo (Andy Lau) devise a plan to infiltrate the House of Flying Daggers and hopefully put a stop to their rebellious tendencies. They play on Mei’s vulnerabilities and use her as bait. But perhaps, just like everybody else, she’s not exactly who or what she would have them believe.

The film is a series of glorious action scenes strung together by a series of glorious story-oriented scenes. Unfortunately, the story can barely be mentioned, due to so darn much going on (despite how it seems at some points). At the exact moment at which things start getting predictable, everything turns around and gets as unpredictable as one could fathom. And the action scenes, including a wonderful sequence featuring a dash through a bamboo forest, are some of the finest ever put on film.

Not bad for a love story.

Some folks may have a hard time with the whole anti-gravity, flying around thing. “That’s completely impossible,” they might say. But such points are meant to signify (metaphorically, of course) the grace and discipline that their training has allowed. Obviously these people can’t fly through the air and balance on flowers, but we’ll be gosh darned if it doesn’t look great.

A quick mention must also be made to Zhang Ziyi. Not only is she a great actress who can portray the depth and emotion necessary for her character, but her grace and skill as a martial artist is simply mind-boggling. It’s hard to imagine how successful the movie would have been with a different actress in the lead.

House of Flying Daggers uses every cinematic trick in the book. Its use of color, effects, action, story, and extremely talented actors make it possibly the greatest martial arts movie ever made, and quite possibly the best movie of the year (although it would be hard pressed to unseat Shaun of the Dead). It is absolutely glorious from start to finish, and unlike Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, doesn’t waste valuable time with seemingly endless boring-as-heck desert scenes. For all fans of martial arts, House of Flying Daggers is as good as they come.

A top-notch DVD presentation is essential for such a film, and Columbia Tristar has delivered the goods. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture quality is stunning. Bright, vibrant colors leap off the screen and the beautiful backgrounds are lush and breathtaking. Detail and skin tones are perfect, with not a trace of dust or grain anywhere on the print. Audio is available in English, French, or Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1, but the only true way to watch is with the subtitles (sorry, but it’s true!). The movie’s wonderful score always stays prominently in the background (if that makes any sense), while dialogue and sound effects make up the bulk of the audio. Bamboo spears whiz past your head, swords clash, and arrows “whoosh” out of their respective bows like they were coming from the kitchen. Everything about the movie and DVD make for a wonderful movie-watching experience. Kudos to the filmmakers, and even to the DVD makers.

Extras on the disc include an audio commentary by director Zhang Yimou and Zhang Ziyi. Honestly, this is probably much more interesting if you understand their language, since otherwise you’re forced to “listen” to the commentary by reading the subtitles, which just doesn’t have the same effect for some reason. But the 45-minute making-of featurette is better (it still uses subtitles, but at least you have visuals to go along with the voices), chronicling the progression of the production from pre to post. There’s also a shorter visual effects featurette, storyboard comparisons, photo galleries, and a music video.

House of Flying Daggers, from Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
119 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau
Produced by Bill Kong, Zhang Yimou
Screenplay by Li Feng & Zhang Yimou & Wang Bin
Directed by Zhang Yimou


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