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House of Flying Daggers

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    lawless

    I just watched Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers, and was puzzled that I didn’t care for it that much even though it was highly praised at the time of release. I felt like it put more emphasis on style than substance. (It was beautifully filmed and edited.) FYI, I liked Crouching Tiger, HIdden Dragon very much. Am I just jaded, having seen that movie first? Or am I onto something here?

    I thought this would be a better place to ask than to post observations about or a review of the film in my LiveJournal, where not everyone is a cinema maven. (Not that I expect everyone here to have seen this movie, but the likelihood is probably greater.)

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    Vili Maunula

    I saw House of Flying Daggers when it came out and my reaction to it then was exactly like yours now. However, I must say that personally I wasn’t a big fan of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, either.

    I suppose that my favourite in the genre will always be A Chinese Ghost Story, mainly because it was one of the first Hong Kong films that I saw and really liked. I’m not sure if I would still like it, as I haven’t seen it for at least 15 years now.

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    cocoskyavitch

    I was watching Crouching Tiger, HIdden Dragon on a Chinese train…back in 2005, I think…had my laptop set up on the table at the end of the open compartment on a “hard sleeper”-and was watching the dvd. I remember my colleague said, “The Chinese don’t think much of this film”…but one by one, my bunk became filled with Chinese folks who wanted to watch the film along with us. It’s something wonderful to rub shoulders with strangers who get as engaged in a film as you are yourself. I put on the English subtitles and played the soundtrack in Mandarin.

    I love that film, it makes me cry everytime in the final scenes. (Although,the first viewing I rooted for the girl to jump at the end…I now have sympathy for her) It follows some old Hong Kong action film format, but goes farther, and with higher production values and a sensitivity to light and composition and color and movement. Anyway, yes, the people on that particular night train through the countryside of China were diggin the film, and I was diggin it with them.

    I saw House of Flying Daggers only once on big screen, and it was very attractive, but not as compelling a story, so not as high in my esteem. Same goes for Hero. Also Qin Shi Huag Di as the guy the “Hero” ends up saving? Hmmmmm.

    But the GREAT one that we use as a teaching tool in our Chinese program, and show to students is To Live. Oh, that one breaks my heart, but is so beautiful, so true and honest and awakens so much deep emotion about what it means to struggle through this life…(!) while giving the hisotrical context of the Mao years. I also love Raise the Red Lantern for its historical setting and story (although to a somewhat lesser degree-the film seems to end abruptly). On my list to see is Red Sorghum!

    Yep, and Zhang directed both the Athens and the Beijing Olympics (opening and closing cermonies of the latter).

    Yimou is clearly a powerful storyteller, and a great visual artist. I want very much to see Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles which crosses cultures, and draws its story from China’s classic story Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

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    Ugetsu

    I’m a big fan of Zhang Yimou‘s early films, but like most here I wasn’t as blown away by House of Flying Daggers as I hoped I’d be. There are fantastic sequences, but unlike Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I never felt the urge to see it again after my first viewing (Crouching Tiger was the first film that I went immediately back to the cinema next day to watch it again!). Hero wasn’t great either, although I thought when watching it that it was a satire on the Communist Party (I thought the scene where the massacre in the palace was a comment on the Tienanmen Square slaughter, but I think I’m the only person who thought that). I feel a little bit let down by Yimou to be honest, I think he’s sold out for easy money and spectacle, although its easy of course to criticise from a distance.

    Every Chinese person I know tells me they hate Crouching Tiger. I think the primary reason is that Lee got the language badly wrong – for native Mandarin speakers apparently it was quite excruciating to listen to most of the actors who are Cantonese pretending to be classical Mandarin speakers. I think there is also a bit of a political thing at work – a kind of ‘how dare this American Taiwanese thing he knows our movies better than us’ type reaction. A bit I guess like Americans feel when Lars Von Trier makes his ‘American’ movies. Or how I felt watching Tom Cruise in Far and Away.

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    lawless

    I thought Zhang Yimou was the same person who directed Raise the Red Lantern, which I haven’t seen but I remember being highly praised. Didn’t that get him kicked out of China for awhile?

    Thanks, everyone. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in not being impressed. Actually, of all the recent Hong Kong-style martial arts movies I’ve seen — three, to be exact, outside of an old Jackie Chan movie, which is somewhat sui generis — my favorite is Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, which has laughs, a dance sequence, martial arts, older folks, action, social commentary, and a romance. That makes it sound like the director (who also stars) threw in the kitchen sink, but it’s really wonderful. It’s also less consciously arty than either Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which I enjoyed but didn’t think was especially deep (and the wirework is spectacular but can wear on you quickly), or House of Flying Daggers, which I briefly considered rewatching in light of the plot twists revealed later on, but decided not to given how unimpressed I was with most of it the first time around.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Can I just say that your mention, lawless, of Jackie Chan makes me very happy? He was on every other billboard in Shanghai this summer. And, he has all these hair products in the grocery stores…! He cracks me up.

    I think, Ugetsu, we both need to see Yimou’s recent work! Your experience of the reception to the film:

    Every Chinese person I know tells me they hate Crouching Tiger.

    ~these are not people living in China, are they? Because, those living in China, on that night train, loved it, despite the fact of my colleague telling me Chinese people didn’t like it.

    Maybe expat Chinese don’t like it?

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    Ugetsu

    Coco

    Maybe expat Chinese don’t like it?

    I’ve had several different native Chinese say that to me. When I ask why, i don’t get a straight answer. Mind you, my ex roommate (from Nanjing) made one of her cute little looks of disgust when she saw it in my dvd collection and told me she hated it. But I later found the disk misplaced so I think she sneaked a look at it when I wasn’t around 😀

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ah, maybe your ex roommate was enjoying a guilty pleasure…! Ugetsu, I don’t doubt your point that the Mandarin is poor…but, perhaps the objection is to the content as well…?

    The female protagonist seems very much like the product of the single-child policy. Bratty girls and boys are the face of the new, more affluent China-and the single-child policy has led to some incredibly spoiled young people (compared to earlier generations). Perhaps she objected to the character of the self-willed young woman, and perhaps it was uncomfortable for her to see anything like a mirror in that character’s face? That sounds harsh, and I surely don’t mean that I personally have had any negative interactions. But, my Chinese boys made fun of one of our Chinese girl students…and it was because she was so….(and here, my Chinese student raises his forefingers and does a snotty little dance while smugly smiling. Very hard to describe…unforgettable to watch. It said volumes).

    Anyway, I would love to know WHY!!! Of course, your explanation that it could be political..”what is this outsider doing pretending to know anything about us?” That could be it, as well. But, when I hear the Yo-Yo Ma solo, it brings my emotions ot the surface.

    Flying Daggers suffers in comparison, though it is a set in a similar time with a similar approach. It hasn’t the memorable score, the poignant double love stories, and the triangle of man/woman/sword.

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    Ugetsu

    Coco

    Anyway, I would love to know WHY!!! Of course, your explanation that it could be political..”what is this outsider doing pretending to know anything about us?” That could be it, as well. But, when I hear the Yo-Yo Ma solo, it brings my emotions ot the surface.

    I did a quick search and came across this quite interesting essay on the topic – it states that Crouching Tiger was a lot less popular in the ‘east’, but it doesn’t say clearly why. It does imply that maybe Jen was too ‘western’ a heroine. The writer also argues that the classic kung fu female action figure is sometimes an allegory for Hong Kong – i.e. can be read as an anti-China symbol (I find this interesting if a little far fetched). I must admit, Jen in the film always puzzled me, I couldn’t quite work out why such an annoying character ended up as the hero. I was quite hoping that in the final battle scene Michelle Yeoh would make chop suey of her with that oversized sword.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ugetsu, thanks for that fascinating link. I’m going to look at it carefully when I get a little more time. You cracked me up with:

    ..”I was quite hoping that in the final battle scene Michelle Yeoh would make chop suey of her with that oversized sword. “

    No kidding!

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    ssj

    Haven’t seen HFD, but my interest in that film was low due to criticisms about style over story. Plus, I had a deep love for Crouching Tiger at the time, and i was skeptical i’d see a kungfu movie as aweshum-sauce anytime soon.

    As for Jen being the hero of Crouching. . . was she? i saw her as a deeply talented but reckless martial artist, using her skills for mischief then destruction. She was like other young fighters who hadn’t yet gained the wisdom to exercise restraint over their physical skills, in contrast to yeoh’s and chow’s characters, who had seen battle and understood the consequences of fighting. (Like sugata sanshiro, jen killed before altering her path, although her change of heart occurred pretty much near the end of the story.)

    Might as well drop something semi-relevant here, clips from my love letter to CTHD, which I put together a few years back. One day, I’ll redo this edit in 1080p.

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