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House Of Flying Daggers  

Review: written 2006

Breathtaking visuals, negligible plot

As he did before in `Hero', Zhang Yimou delivers a film of staggering beauty and strikingly memorable visuals. Newcomers to this genre of Chinese movies should be warned - the action scenes use wires and effects to create a heightened reality - this is not supposed to be realistic, but mythological in nature, much as they were in `Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. Once you accept this premise however, this film has everything going for it. Ziyi Zhang is suitably enigmatically beautiful for her key role. She is the suspected member of the titular House, a group who defy the ruling dynasty. A young captain is sent to befriend her in order to locate the rebel's leader. On the journey, his feigned love to win her affections becomes less and less acted as he begins to question what he is doing. However, all is certainly not as it seems, and plenty of twists and revelations ensue.

OK, the plot is a little hokey, but it is a fable rather than an historical film, and works well with the imagery. We are treated to stunning primary colours both through nature (white snow, silver birch trees, green bamboos), the sets and the costumes - all brought magnificently together through the cinematography.

Two scenes stand out - neither are realistic action scenes, but both thoroughly memorable visual and audio delights (DTS soundtrack is recommended if you can). The first is the echo game.. the blind dancer stands in a circle of drums, and the young captain throws pebbles at the drums to which she must respond using her long cloak to strike the drums in the same order - it is a simple concept but sublime in the execution. The second is the now famous bamboo forest scene. This is a staple of these sorts of movie in its native China, and the director felt compelled to include a bamboo forest scene. But the style, colours and sound of the swishing branches creates an entirely original yet breathtaking sequence.

The music has toned down the typical Chinese sounds to create a soundtrack friendly to Western ears, and yet still maintaining Chinese character. Clearly the movie has been tailored for the international audience which makes some elements seem a tad contrived, especially next to its very slightly superior `Hero' counterpart. However, the fact is it has worked. If you can put aside the fantastic elements which take you out of reality, and let yourself be drawn into another world, then this movie experience will be richly rewarding.

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