"Real flowers bloom in the wilderness."
Chinese (Mandarin) wuxia film
aka Shi Mian Mai Fu (Ambush from Ten Directions)
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Let me start off by saying that House of Flying Daggers is a very beautiful film. The cinematography, the colourful costums, the action scenes, and the special effects (especially the use of the daggers) - all very well done and hypnotic during the first viewing of the film.
However, like Zhang Yimou's previous wuxia creation, Hero, House of Flying Daggers turns out to be a beautiful film with no real substance. The introductory text sets up the premise - a secretive group known as the House of Flying Daggers roams the country attempting to begin a revolution against the corruption of government officials during the Tang dynasty. Jin and Leo are two deputies who hatch a plan for Jin to convince Mei, a blind dancer who is rumoured to be a spy for the rebellious group, that he is out to help her return to her comrades. As they run from battles with government soldiers sent to hunt them, the two begin to fall in love.
The real problem lies with the romance part of the film. The chemistry between Zhang and Kaneshiro is so unconvincing that I could not help but feel cold at the blossoming romance. This does not actually pose a problem for the first 3/4 of the movie as the romance is only hinted upon in bits and pieces. In fact, the first 3/4 of the film is quite well done. Leo's challenge with Mei at the Peony Pavillion is a marvel to witness. In addition, the battle with soldiers in a bamboo forest is superb. Finally, the scenery shots are spectacular - setting the movie against a backdrop of fields of tall grass, grand mountain passes, and thick forests makes for great eye candy (along with the cast). Plus, the meeting with the House of Flying Daggers who come to the rescue of Jin and Mei makes for an interesting introduction to a cool concept (plus a great scene of dozens of flying daggers tearing through the forest).
The movie falls apart after the introduction of members within the revolutionary group. At this point, twists and turns in the story are revealed. It is here that the film could have taken an interesting turn in the concept of the Daggers - who are they and why do they do what they do? Instead, it chooses to focus on a love story that is already hard to swallow.
The epic battle at the end between two main characters is well done but I sat there thinking about the ultimate reason for the battle and laughed - because it was all about a girl. Nothing more than that. While it may seem romantic to some, it would have worked if the romance wasn't so queasy and melodramatic to begin with. It's like watching Titanic with swordplay - cool to look at but the only memorable thing you come out of it with is a numb ass.
Bottom line: beautiful to look at but ultimately unsatisfying - like supermodels.
Owlman's Rating: 6/10