08 December 2005

House Of Flying Daggers! Shi Mian Mai Fu !

“The ultimate satisfaction in a movie is when it exceeds high expectations.”
-Me (So what if I am narcissistic ;))

A good movie takes you up two notches but a great movie takes you up four notches. You get to see them once in few years. If you are lucky, maybe once a year. I call them Lifetime Movies. They have a strange power to immerse you into a visceral world. Take you on an emotional rollercoaster, from smiling to crying to shocking to screaming for the characters involved. You feel restless and your heart begins to palpitate as you wonder what would happen next. When it finally ends, you are still sitting in your seat, your emotions washing away slowly as the credits go up. You have a mixed feeling of sadness and happiness. Sad that it is over and happy that you have just had a satisfying experience. Zhang Yimou’s ‘The House Of Flying Daggers’ is one such movie.

If Yimou created unforgettable colorful paintings in THE HERO, this time he creates a literally ‘moving’ drama filled with suspense, betrayal, strategy, action, friendship, loyalty and above all passionate love. I was afraid I would be reading the subtitles and miss the whole impact of the beautiful images. But Yimou makes sure that it doesn’t happen by avoiding any lengthy dialogues.

The story begins with a simple plot. The movie is set in 859AD China. There is an uprising in Tang dynasty by an underground rebel group called ‘House of Flying Daggers’. One of the captains, Leo (Andy Lau), in a Tang province, learns that a blind girl in the local harem is a member of the rebel group. He devises a plan with his friend and fellow captain, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), to trap the blind girl. Zhang Ziyi, of “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” fame, is the blind girl, Mei. The movie hooks you immediately in the opening sequence of Mei. The local Harem has butterflies embedded in the floor, musicians dressed in blue, drums with red roses imprinted in middle and to top it all, Mei, stands in the middle of the room, looking like an Indo-Chinese doll wearing a dress that seductively slides from one shoulder. She dances to a mesmerizing tune, swaying her scarf across the room. As Leo threatens to arrest her, they both indulge in a unique game called ‘Echo’ where Mei has to echo the beat made by Leo with her scarf beating the drums. The scene rises in crescendo with each beat as the game finally ends in Mei being captured. Jin rescues Mei trying to win her trust so she may lead him to the leader of House of Flying Daggers.

Love is a strange thing. It happens in unseemly places at unexpected moments and questions all that you believed in until that moment. And here, it happens in the jungle, as Jin and Mei, escape the deadliest of Tang Soldiers. Mei tries her best not to get caught up in Jin’s charm while Jin feels conflicted between his loyalty to Tang Dynasty and his care for Mei. The Tang soldiers follow them relentlessly as each fight betters the previous one. Daggers flying like boomerangs in a field of wild flowers; Arrows traveling right in between your eyebrows in the big screen; Bamboo sticks falling like pellets on the ground as Mei and Jin run; the action sequences are balladic, swift and spectacular.

Zhang Ziyi gives her best performance as she wades through various shades of her character and kicking butt with élan when she has to. Meanwhile, Takeshi Kaneshiro, is the first Chinese actor I know (which is very few) who can emote. The chemistry between them is electrifying although I have to say, they kiss pretty badly.

Just when you think, you have figured out the movie, Yimou, brings a complete twist and you immediately scream in your head, “Oh Shit!”. The next ten minutes that follows the twist, you, as the viewer is conflicted. Your mind understands but your heart doesn’t want to accept it. Mei’s predicament becomes too complicated a knot to untie. As the Tang general sends his army to House of Flying Dagger’s hideout, in the midlands of snow-falling forest, one of the most beautiful heart-wrenching climaxes transpires. This sumptuous, romantic,martial art saga ends with the same song that Mei danced in the opening sequence.

A must-see!

Posting the picture of Takeshi Kaneshiro because my wife wants me to. As if drooling over Colin Firth, Clive Owen and Hrithik are not enough!

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