Directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau and Dandan Song.
Here is another of the growing number of Chinese martial arts movies that are becoming ever-popular in mainstream Western cinema.
'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and 'Hero' both achieved critical acclaim and had box office success and, as such, have set a very high standard to maintain.
'House of Flying Daggers' definitely suffers through comparisons to its predecessors. The situation isn't helped by the presence of director, co-writer and producer Zhang Yimou, who also directed 'Hero'. Add Zhang Ziyi, who appeared in both 'Crouching Tiger...' and 'Hero', to the mix and you have a virtual reunion of the main protagonists in the recent upsurge of Western interest in wu xia movies.
Ziyi plays Mei, a young blind woman who is a member of a secret underground movement, aptly called House of the Flying Daggers, who are at the forefront of civil unrest against the corrupt Tang Dynasty in China in the year 859AD. Jin (Kaneshiro) and Leo (Lau) are government agents. Jin believes that Mei is the daughter of the old leader of her movement and tries to curry favour so he can infiltrate the organisation and expose them to the wrath of the Emperor's forces. However, Jin falls in love with the delectable Mei, thus causing conflict between his feelings towards her and his loyalty to the authorities. The on screen connection between Kaneshiro and Ziyi is one of the highlights.
The film is littered with aerial fight scenes, which are expertly executed, but coming after 'Crouching Tiger...' they lack that certain wow factor. In terms of the story, there are more twists and turns than a West Limerick back road, and that leads to the plot becoming far more convoluted than necessary. There is a pile of revelations about three-quarters of the way in, and if Yimou had wrapped things up at that stage the aftertaste would have been a whole lot sweeter. Instead we trundle on for a further 30 minutes or so, losing momentum all the way. The final fight scene is a smidgen ludicrous, which is unfortunate as what comes before, for the most part, is quite pleasing.
What Yimou cannot be faulted on, though, is the aesthetic qualities he brings to the picture. The sets and costumes are exquisite and lovers of ancient Chinese culture will be left salivating. Jin and Mei travel outdoors for much of the movie and the vivid colours of the landscapes make for a visual feast, more than compensating for any of the storyline's inadequacies.
There have been complaints that the English subtitles fail to capture the intricacies of the Mandarin language. However, with the obvious exception of the Chinese community here, that really shouldn't upset Irish audiences too much.