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House of Flying Daggers ("The Lovers")

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Can't believe I forgot Takeshi Kitano. I guess the verdict is that I just don't pay enough attention to Japan. Twilight Samurai is on my "to see eventually" list, and I've seen Kurosawa's The Cure, but the rest of those names sound foreign to me. (No pun intended) Part of it may be that I am not a fan of the horror genre in general, and that seems to be the place where Japanese cinema is making the most waves.... other than anime.

Too bad about Kitamura... Azumi looked interesting.

Edited by theoddone33

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Can't believe I forgot Takeshi Kitano.  I guess the verdict is that I just don't pay enough attention to Japan.  Twilight Samurai is on my "to see eventually" list, and I've seen Kurosawa's The Cure, but the rest of those names sound foreign to me. (No pun intended)  Part of it may be that I am not a fan of the horror genre in general, and that seems to be the place where Japanese cinema is making the most waves.... other than anime.

Ringu and Dark Water, whereas Takashi Shimizu directed the Ju-On series. Toshiaki Toyoda is probably one of the best young directors in Japan. I saw 9 Souls at last year's Toronto festival, and it simply blew me away (here's my review). Blue Spring has some great moments in it, and I have yet to see Pornostar (though I've heard good things).

And yes, you must see The Twilight Samurai. Excellent movie.

Too bad about Kitamura... Azumi looked interesting.

If you want a movie featuring Japanese models looking pouty, swinging swords, and getting all melodramatic, opt for the far superior The Princess Blade.


"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Well, my DVD finally got here and I have to say I didn't like the film. Despite a decent start, it went nowhere. I suppose the death of a lead actress made them rework things quite a bit, but it would have been much better with a less ridiculous plot and characters that were deeper. The visuals were great, but not entirely redemptive. I'll give Zhang Yimou a mulligan on this one; 3 stars out of 5 from me.

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Note that the death of the lead actress I was referring to (Anita Mui) happened months before shooting began, and her part was not rewritten, simply removed from the film. The film carries a dedication to her. Sorry if that sounded like spoilers, I guess I wasn't very clear.

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Here is what House of Flying Daggers is: visually sumptuous.

Check.

Give Zhang Yimou credit for doing what I would have thought impossible: filming a bamboo-forest flying-swordsman fight scene that eclipses Ang Lee's in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's that beautiful and haunting.

Check. And that only scratches the surface.

There are also a number of other dazzling set pieces, though I think it gets off on the wrong foot with a colorful but uninteresting opening set piece involving an array of drums and flying pebbles and kimono sleeves.

Ooooh, I disagree. That was just about my favorite sequence in the film. So many colors, so beautifully choreographed, and Ziyi just OWNS the screen. And at the end of the story, knowing what I know, I'm dying to go back and watch these sequences again.

It's also a lot bloodier than Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. These wuxia warriors have supernatural powers, but they aren't nearly as invulnerable as Li Mu Bai and Jen or Nameless and Snow.

No kidding. But there's also a lot more visual comedy. (The warriors who Asian Legolas strikes down from a great distance ... sorta.) And much of the banter is very very clever, even in translation.

For awhile it looks as if Flying Daggers might be a political antithesis to Hero,

Yep. I appreciated that.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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...continued

unless I missed something, there's an incipient climactic showdown between the government soldiers and the Flying Daggers in the bamboo forest that just goes by the wayside. We never see it.

The film was titled "The Lovers" in Asia, and it should have stayed that way. The American title throws us off, making us think it's about this war, when in fact it's intensely focused on the definition of love and the way the human heart is at war with itself when it comes to romantic love and the ethics of love.

Instead, the story focuses more on the rivalry of the two male characters for Zhang Ziyi. Unfortunately, the characters are chilly and uninvolving, for reasons that make sense to be sure, but they don't make for engrossing melodrama.

I found them very involving, and that's why the film broke my heart. Early on, I leaned over to my friend Wayne and told him I knew what the big twist was going to be. When it came, I was right, and I was so thrilled that the film was going that direction, I cheered out loud. The film had a TREMENDOUS opportunity to become a firm reprimand to the American-movie-ideal of INFATUATION=LOVE.

But then ANOTHER twist completely corrupted my hope, and left me furious with ALL THREE of the main characters. Indeed, these conflicts represent the devastating nature of love ... for those who make love self-centered and all about "what I want."

It isn't mythic and grand like Hero, and it isn't romantic and lyrical like Crouching Tiger.

Hmmm. I found it just as mythic -- just not in the nature of a NATIONAL myth, but rather a psychological fairy tale. And for a short while (post-twist, pre-disappointment) I thought it was fiercely romantic. I was ready to declare this my favorite film about a couple ... until ... well ... one character's severe disintegration in to evil.

It isn't an exciting tale of heroic resisters, and it isn't an involving character drama.

Mmmm. Not heroic, not. But I found it very involving, and thus very frustrating in the end.

One thing that Flying Daggers does have in common with Crouching Tiger and Hero is that this is now the third art-house wuxia in a row in which Zhang Ziyi is the subject of forceful, even violent sexual advances.

Considering the subject matter and the culture, I guess this didn't surprise or bother me. Perhaps the film's boldest message is about how to treat a woman, so we see a lot of mistreatment.

The film seems unpleasantly preoccupied with who is going to be the first to get into her pants.

Well, I didn't feel THAT, but I did feel the film settled for a shallow definition of love.

turning it from the devastating cliamax it's meant to be into an unwieldy, over-the-top coda that feels tacked-on and doesn't know where to end.

I felt that it became increasingly abstract and symbolic, with nature once again expressing matters of the human heart, and the characters coming to represent warring tendencies within the human heart. But because none of these characters comes to represent a true virtuous stance, we're just watching broken and narrow-minded combatants in a showdown.

The worst thing about this for me is that I was hoping that Flying Daggers would somehow help me sort out my conflicting feelings about Hero.

For me, Hero is the superior film on all counts, except for the soundtrack, which is far more interesting and complex, and for Zhang Ziyi's performance, which is the most wide-ranging and accomplished of her career.

Hero: I've down-graded it from an A+ to an A on my list for the year, having been eventually convinced that there is something of a problem with its excusal of totalitarianism (although I *still* think the film is more about the conflict than championing imperialism.)

The Lovers: B+ for priceless, awe-inspiring beauty, sharp writing, and Ziyi.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I've been slightly distressed how many people are willing to overlook the nonsensical plot twists and general lack of plausible emotion in this film because it looks pretty. I'm convinced that the film won't make any sense at all on a second viewing, but haven't found the desire to test out that theory.

For the record, "Lovers" is the Japanese title. In Chinese the title means "Attack from Ten Directions" or something similar, highlighting the fact that the two protaganists don't really have anyone to trust but themselves for a large portion of the film. I think the "House of Flying Daggers" title is probably the worst of the three.

I'd agree that this is definitely Zhang Ziyi's most expansive role. It's really the second time she's had to do anything other than look angry, and she did it well. The main (sole?) problem with this movie is the script, in my opinion.

[Edit: Just so there's no confusion, I'm referring to the reviews I've read in general in the first sentence, not any specific review.]

Edited by theoddone33

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I've been slightly distressed how many people are willing to overlook the nonsensical plot twists and general lack of plausible emotion in this film because it looks pretty.  I'm convinced that the film won't make any sense at all on a second viewing, but haven't found the desire to test out that theory.

I suspect you may be right.

For the record, "Lovers" is the Japanese title.  In Chinese the title means "Attack from Ten Directions" or something similar, highlighting the fact that the two protaganists don't really have anyone to trust but themselves for a large portion of the film.  I think the "House of Flying Daggers" title is probably the worst of the three.

Depending on what you mean, I agree. In the abstract, I think it's the BEST title, i.e., if I walked into a video store and saw films with all three titles and had no other information, I would be most intrigued by House of Flying Daggers. But it's definitely the worst title FOR THIS FILM.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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The film was titled "The Lovers" in Asia, and it should have stayed that way. The American title throws us off, making us think it's about this war, when in fact it's intensely focused on the definition of love and the way the human heart is at war with itself when it comes to romantic love and the ethics of love.

Agree with you that the title was part of the problem.

I found them very involving, and that's why the film broke my heart.

Mine too, but in a way that alienated me from the film and made me just about stop caring. It sounds like you had a similar response, although perhaps to a lesser degree.

One thing that Flying Daggers does have in common with Crouching Tiger and Hero is that this is now the third art-house wuxia in a row in which Zhang Ziyi is the subject of forceful, even violent sexual advances.
Considering the subject matter and the culture, I guess this didn't surprise or bother me. Perhaps the film's boldest message is about how to treat a woman, so we see a lot of mistreatment.

Hm. I can buy that the film has a message about how NOT to treat a woman, but I'm not convinced there's a positive counterpoint there. In any case, I can't see anything very "bold" about this in this day and age. Unless we assume (what I am NOT doing in this sentence) that Asian men are still such neanderthals and Asian women are still so entirely unliberated that "Don't rape women" is a boldly countercultural statement over there.

The film seems unpleasantly preoccupied with who is going to be the first to get into her pants.
Well, I didn't feel THAT, but I did feel the film settled for a shallow definition of love.

That too.

I felt that it became increasingly abstract and symbolic, with nature once again expressing matters of the human heart, and the characters coming to represent warring tendencies within the human heart. But because none of these characters comes to represent a true virtuous stance, we're just watching broken and narrow-minded combatants in a showdown.

(nod)

For me, Hero is the superior film on all counts, except for the soundtrack, which is far more interesting and complex, and for Zhang Ziyi's performance, which is the most wide-ranging and accomplished of her career.

I wish I were more attuned to music. I also give credit to Flying Daggers for crafting fight scenes with far more dramatic tension than those in Hero. The fight scenes in Hero, as visually stunning as they are, seem predetermined; it's simply a matter of waiting for the inevitable or else waiting for a character to make a fateful decision. The fight scenes in Flying Dagger seem much more real and dangerous, and I was more on the edge of my seat watching them (until the twist that stopped me caring about the film).

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Call left on my home answering machine yesterday (with the name and phone number concealed to protect the caller).

"My name is [name deleted.] I'd like you to call me back at (301)-xxx-xxxx. I'm wondering about this movie ... um ... House of Hunting ... I mean, House of Flying Daggers. I'm just wondering if a Christian can go to this movie. I look forward to hearing from you."

[CLICK ... Dial tone.]

blink.gif

1) I'm flattered that you're asking me.

2) You're calling me from a (301) area code? Who are you? How'd you get my number? Why not just email me, like everybody else?

3) I'm living proof. A Christian can go to this movie.

4) If you mean, 'Should a Christian go to this movie?', we have a whole lot to talk about. But I'm not in the habit of contributing movie reviews on demand by phone, where I have to make a long distance call to do it. No offense. But that's what email is for. Try it sometime.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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spoilers1.gif

Zhang Yimou has gone on record as saying that Hero and HOFD are similar films because they're both about sacrifice. The former film portrayed sacrifice for political reasons, while the latter is supposed to portray sacrifice for love. I think that in retrospect the film achieved this quite well. Unfortunately by the time it happened I had lost all interest in the characters, thanks to their uncanny ability to morph into characters that bear no resemblence to the people I'd been watching for half of the movie.

I think it would have been a much better film if instead of a fight scene, Zhang had inserted some dialog between Leo and Mei near the beginning of the movie revealing their relationship. Not only would it have made the plot hold up under scrutiny, but it also would have gotten that bit of nonsense out of the way and given us a more time to become sympathetic to Leo's own sacrifice. Leo is a terrible example of a character turned plot device, and he should have been something more. Zhang Yimou sacrificed him in an attempt to surprise the audience that mostly failed, and this offends me in a way.

I have to wonder if it's a coincidence that Jin was the most likeable character. He was the only character whose deceptions were revealed to the audience straightaway, giving us (or at least me) the ability to believe that his sacrifice actually meant something. The other characters were nowhere near as compelling. Who can sympathize with Leo at the end? My guess is... no one, even though we all should have been able to sympathize with him, aside from the whole rape thing.

I don't know why I keep talking about this film... maybe I'm depressed that everyone seems to have liked it more than I did. I'm still hoping that Ebert pans it, in a way.

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Haven't had a chance to read the thread yet, but I did see this a few days ago and I just wanted to note that I think I like this film better than Hero -- better characters (especially where Zhang Ziyi is concerned), better plot twists, better special effects, better fights.

There ARE a couple of head-scratchingly strange things that leave me wondering if maybe we're getting an edited version of a longer film, and I certainly think this film has its flaws, but its flaws are no worse than that of Hero's, while I think its strengths are better.

But I'd have to see the two films back-to-back to say for sure.

I also acknowledge that one of the factors influencing my responses to these films is the difference in how they were marketed. As the Georgia Straight critic remarked to me afterwards, the trailer for Hero -- which got a lot of play in local theatres -- was so good that the film itself was a letdown, whereas there was no such advance hype for Daggers, which he said he regarded as his "popcorn movie of the year".

Gotta say, I LOVE the fight scenes, especially where Zhang Ziyi's blind character is concerned. Y'know, even though you know that the ACTRESS isn't really blind, the fact that she is LOOKING AWAY from her opponents in the fight scenes does introduce an unusual, extra level of authentic danger to the proceedings.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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There ARE a couple of head-scratchingly strange things that leave me wondering if maybe we're getting an edited version of a longer film, and I certainly think this film has its flaws, but its flaws are no worse than that of Hero's, while I think its strengths are better.

I doubt it's cut at all, I got the full length DVD from HK and there was still plenty of head-scratching. I'm sure that with all the money spent on this film the blatant loose ends had to be intentional, but it just felt like shoddy filmmaking instead. Can brilliance be disguised as carelessness? I'm not sure. Again, I think the aforementioned death of Anita Mui contributed highly to some of the problems with the film's script, and almost certainly contributes to the feeling that we're missing a part of the story.

I have to disagree on Hero. While Hero's characters weren't explored, House's characters weren't interesting. Again, Zhang Ziyi's acting was fine, but this is the first time she's gotten a real role in almost six consecutive movies. I haven't seen 2046 yet, but I'm expecting a better performance out of her in that than she put together in House.

I'm not quite sure why I'm so far off the mean, but I thought Hero was a good if not great film, while House of Flying Daggers was a mediocre if not terrible film.

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Since the bamboo fight scene in House Of Flying Daggers has garnered so much attention, here's a list of the Top 10 Bamboo Forest Fights.

As wonderful as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's fight is, there's always been something about it that bugs me. As the fight concludes, the two combatants come swooping out of the forest onto a nearby river. It's a gorgeous shot but if you look very closely when Li Mu Bai lands, he stumbles, almost as if he's tripped on the rock or something. I know this seems really nitpicky, but that little thing distracts me everytime and ruins the scene for me. I mean, a martial arts master as great and powerful as Li Mu Bai shouldn't even know the meaning of the word "stumble". Everywhere else, though, Chow Yun-Fat is absolutely perfect.

And, I'm not sure if its in a bamboo forest or not (I'd need to watch the film again), but I'd also list the second-to-last battle in Duel To The Death... if only for the exploding ninjas.


"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Here I sit, rapidly losing faith in humanity as I read Ebert's review of this film.

Forget about the plot, the characters, the intrigue, which are all splendid in "House of Flying Daggers," and focus just on the visuals.

What surprises me is that so many critics are willing to throw out plot and characters in order to give this movie high star counts. I disagreed with some of the reviews posted here, but at least none of them threw out the plot entirely.

Sadly it seems that Ebert is getting less reliable in general. His review contains factual errors about the plot, so I'm forced to assume the only reason he thought it was splendid was because he didn't follow the movie.

I will shut up about this film now, honest!

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Really, really enjoyed House of Flying Daggers. Don't have much more to say about it, except that I want to see it again before deciding a Top 10 this year. Hero is on the list already. Is it possible to have two by the same director on your year end list?

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Just saw this on MonkeyPeaches (Warning: Link has spoilers galore). Apparently, several cuts/edits have been made to the film since I saw it at TIFF.

"Chris" from HelloZiyi.us just discovered that there was a 10 second shot missing from the US release of Shi Mian Mai Fu / House Of Flying Daggers (click here for the missing shot.) The issing shot features

Jin slitting the throat of a fellow police officer during the wild flower field fight

. The deletion was most likely for getting a PG-13 rating in the US. I have not seen the US release, therefore I cannot personally verify it. Also, since the film is released in Canada by a separate distributor, I am also not sure whether the Canadian release is intact or not. I you have seen the film in the US or Canada, please tell the answer.

In addition to the cut of Jin slitting the policeman's throat, they also cut the part where Jin gets back and finds Mei with a dagger in her, cradles her in his arms, and she warns him to turn around.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Yeah, that's true and the cuts are a good thing. It almost entirely solves the unintentional laughter issue at the end ...

Apparently some horse falls were cut in the UK as well, but they were intact in the Canadian print.


twitch

independent and cult film.

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Instead, the story focuses more on the rivalry of the two male characters for Zhang Ziyi. Unfortunately, the characters are chilly and uninvolving, for reasons that make sense to be sure, but they don't make for engrossing melodrama.

So here is what the film isn't: It isn't mythic and grand like Hero, and it isn't romantic and lyrical like Crouching Tiger. It isn't an exciting tale of heroic resisters, and it isn't an involving character drama.

I agree with this. The key for me was that the relationships lacked chemistry. The love between the characters didn't convince me in the way that the relationships in Hidden Dragon, Crouching Tiger did. I did get excited about the prospects of seeing Jin's feelings evolve to a romantic love (or at least romantic chemistry). You sort of see the transformation, but it never get there, imo.

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My copy of Wong Kar Wai's latest, 2046, should be arriving early next week. Among its list of stars is none other than Zhang Ziyi. I'm interested to see her performance, since I'm still up in the air about the acting ability that everyone seems to attribute to her. Also I'd like to find a copy of The Purple Butterfly, since I only watched part of it and it didn't have English subs.

Anyway, I'll post my thoughts on 2046 sometime next week.

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