Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Zhang cuts his way into 'wuxia'

`House of Flying Daggers' isn't just about its beautiful cast. The story and fight scenes are what carry the movie


Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhang Ziyi, center, find danger comes from every angle in House of Flying Daggers.


Now that he feels comfortable with wuxia, or martial-arts movies, following Hero (英雄) -- his first foray into the genre, which Miramax has yet to release in North America -- Chinese master Zhang Yimou (張藝謀) creates a gem in House of Flying Daggers (十面埋伏).

While the action sequences are right up there with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon(臥虎藏龍), Zhang uses the genre to relate a touching and tragic tale about star-crossed lovers caught up with forces that threaten to overwhelm them. Filming with an international cast in China and the Ukraine, the director lets the action unfold amid landscapes so beautiful they feel like paintings.

The film is certain to be a worldwide hit, but whether it will approach the boxoffice figures of the Crouching Tiger phenomenon is an open question. Certainly, Western audiences hungering for more have a great meal headed their way.

Set in the year 859 in the waning days of the now-corrupt Tang Dynasty, the central force in the film is a shadowy revolutionary alliance known as the House of Flying Daggers. Their leader has been assassinated, but a mysterious new leader has already replaced him.

Two local deputies are ordered to capture this leader within 10 days, a virtually impossible task. Captain Leo, played by Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau (劉德華), suspects that Mei, played by Crouching Tiger's Zhang Ziyi (章子怡), a new and beautiful blind dancer at the nearby Peony Pavilion, is actually the daughter of the old leader seeking revenge. Captain Jin (Japanese-Taiwanese star Takeshi Kaneshiro) goes to the brothel, where he drunkenly flirts with Mei, and they both get "arrested" by Leo.

When Mei refuses to talk even under threat of torture, Leo suggests that Jin rescue her while pretending to be a lone warrior who calls himself the Wind. The two flee, and the plan appears to work when, after a couple of spectacular battles between the couple and pursuing troops, Mei accepts Jin's faked identity.

Film Notes

Directed by: Zhang Yimou

Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau,

Zhang Ziyi

Running time: 119 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today

The two head north, presumably toward the headquarters of the House of Flying Daggers. But no one is who he or she appears to be, and danger lurks everywhere. What no one anticipated, however, is that Mei and Jin would fall for each other, which causes everyone's schemes to crumble. When Jin must fight and kill his fellow soldiers for real and Mei finds herself asked to kill Jin, the divided loyalties reach their zenith.

Paying tribute to wuxia master King Hu, whose three-hour epic A Touch of Zen won a technical prize at Cannes in 1969, director Zhang honors all the conventions of the genre, including his own battle in the bamboo forest. The twist here is that the troops occupy the treetops, hurling sharpened bamboo down on the heroes who must fight and run on the ground.

As the title promises, knives and daggers zip through the air with balletic force. Flying daggers twist, plunge, ricochet and change directions. Employing the latest film technology and the most acrobatic suit people in the Chinese and Hong Kong film industries, Zhang has objects and people defy gravity in ways Hu could only dream about.

A dance sequence early in the movie featuring Zhang Ziyi and what appears to be a stunt double in some shots telegraphs viewers that the director means to raise the action bar in all areas. That he does so while keeping the story firmly rooted in the developing love between two people desperately fighting their own instincts is a tribute to his cinematic mastery.

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