252 of 285 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2004
Soon following the success of 'Hero,' director Yimou Zhang made another film featuring beautiful Zhang Ziyi. One of the good news for Zhang Ziyi fans (including me) is that 'House of Flying Daggers' features her almost all through the film. And this time director's stress is clearly given to the romantic side of the story -- and as if to match his intention, 'House' looks more beautiful, colorful, and gorgeous, than 'Hero.' And there are actions, and some of them are quite unique.
The film is set in 859 AD, last days of the now corrupt Tang Dynasty in China. One underground sect called House of Flying Daggers are openly challenging the authority of the government, and to crush these rebels, two officers Jin -- also known 'The Wind' (Takeshi Kaneshiro, 'Chunking Express') and Leo (Andy Lau, 'Infernal Affairs') think of a good plan.
Jin goes to meet a blind courtesan Mei (Zhang Ziyi), who is suspected to be connected with the secret clan, and he gains the confidence of this beautiful dancer by some tricks -- tricks meaning 'love.' Make her love you, and you get her secret. Hopefully she will lead Jin to the hiding place of the 'House of Flying Daggers,' but before the plan starts, Leo warns Jin: 'Don't fall in love for real.' But who can resist Mei's beauty? Or Zhang Ziyi's for that matter?
The rest of the story is very melodramatic, and the film sometimes needs a good amount of suspension of disbelief (especially for Western audiences, I'm afraid). But, though melodramatic, it is aptly so, as this is basically about a romance, or a love story. Those who love the romantic mood in films would understand what I say. It's all about the tension and mood, and 'House' has lots of them.
Actions are done by Tony Ching Siu-Tung, whose CV includes the action director of 'A Chinese Ghost Story.' He gives superb martial arts actions here again, without using too much of now-too-trendy wire actions. As the film title shows, there are some effectively shot scenes of 'flying daggers' which, with a good use of CGIs, gives a few of thrilling moments. And like I said before, the battles in the midst of a deep bamboo forest are not to be missed, if you are a real Hong-Kong film fan.
Costumes are provided by Emi Wada (as in 'Hero'), whose colorful dresses are just wonderful. Particlularly those long-sleeved dancing costumes for Zhang Ziyi not merely enhance the exotic beauty of the dancer, but things to be treasured on their own merit. And Kathleen Battle sings the theme song at the end of the film.
But first and foremost, to me, the film is made for Zhang Ziyi. Did I say she is beautiful? She is, and breathtakingly so, when her character betrays her hidden emotions before the camera. And sometimes the film reveals the character's very sensual side -- I say, for a Chinese film, of course, but it was a little surprising.
Of course, top-credited Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro are the stars, and they are very good. The film is always beautiful to see, from the first to the end (the snow field was shot in Ukraine). And if you're a fan of Zhang Ziyi, this one is not to be missed for it's not too much to say that it belongs to her.
236 of 271 people found the following review helpful
Since none of the other reviews for this movie seem to focus on the Blu-Ray disc, I decided I'll throw my $.02 in.
The movie is a very good, well told story. The other reviews tell you that. What they don't tell you is that the Blu-Ray version is a waste of money.
The first issue I had when playing the movie was the menu. Something told me that when the menu come on and it looked no better than DVD that something was amiss. I had hoped it was just the menu. I was wrong.
I then started the movie up with subtitles and when the actual movie started I raised my hand to my head and began to scratch it. The video looked HORRIBLE. Pixelated and blurry and lacking detail.
I paused the movie just before the drum scene. I then put the DVD into my Oppo 971 DVD player, switched the input on my TV to the DVD player and skipped to the same scene on the DVD. I was amazed. The DVD upconverted to 720p using the Oppo 971 looked BETTER than the 1080p image coming from the PS3 through HDMI! The only difference is that the PS3's image is a bit brighter. This may be because I haven't calibrated the color for the HDMI input and not a true representation of the transfer.
The sound is really good, but not a whole lot better than the DVD. It certainly isn't worth the price to upgrade to Blu-Ray when the sound nearly imperceptibly changes and the video looks this bad.
Looking at reviews on-line for the disc and given they were giving the movie decent video ratings, I thought it may be a problem with my setup, so I called Sony's PS3 support line and basically was told that as long as my other movies looked good (Corpse Bride looks simply stunning in Blu-Ray) that it was likely the way the movie was authored. Pretty sad that Sony, who are the biggest backers of the format, can't even author a movie properly. I have since learned from sources other than people trying to justify the expense of their $1000 players that HoFD is widely regarded as Sony's most poorly authored Blu-Ray title. Part of the issue may also be that Sony has an aversion to VC-1 (which is supported by Microsoft) and instead focuses on using MPEG-2 to encode the video. Talledega Nights also uses MPEG-2 but looks light years beyond HoFD.
Do yourself a favor if you want to purchase this on Blu-Ray; save yourself some money and buy the DVD version instead. The content doesn't change and it honestly looks better than the Blu-Ray disc. If you want something to show off the clarity of Blu-Ray, pick up Corpse Bride.
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2005
If you have not seen Hero, HOFD stands on its own for its gorgeous art direction alone. If you have seen Hero, you must see HOFD, because HOFD is a perfect contrast to Hero; "Hero" cannot be complete without HOFD. Both films are about sacrifice. So what set them apart?
While the message in "Hero" can be interpreted as "the greater goods outweigh the individual needs", the message in HOFD can be deciphered as "the individual needs outweigh the greater goods".
In "Hero", Nameless and Broken Sword gave up their plan to assassinate the emperor (thus giving up not only their desire to avenge personal hatred but also their individual happiness) because they realized that the power of the emperor might be the best solution to end the dreadful pains and suffers resulting from the a tangle of warring states.
In HOFD, Mei and Jin eventually chose to give up their mission to serve their respective political entity and instead, pursue their individual happiness and freedom.
In both movies, the outcomes are the same. No matter choosing the greater goods or individual needs ahead of everything, the individual cannot escape from suffering. In "hero", sacrifice of the individual dreams leads to the broken hearts. In HOFD, sacrifice of the greater goods leads to amplify the conflict of individual emotions (e.g., rejection and jealousy). At the end, the individuals still suffer and death becomes the best way to free it all.
While Yimou Zhang was criticized for the communism dogma in Hero (the importance of the greater good over the individual freedom), HOFD is his brilliant effort to silence the critics. HOFD manifests the unspoken (or relatively hidden) messages of Hero: the individuals' emotional baggage could outweigh everything after all. Humans are just humans. They suffer and search for ways to alleviate their suffering. And Zhang sympathizes with both forms of sufferings.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2005
Some people call this movie a 'bad kung-fu flick', one person in particular who posted their review on this movie earlier. I say their wrong. Way wrong. This movie wasn't created to be a world class kung fu flick, but rather to satisfy the desires of the followers of the newest type of motion picture: visual poetry.
This movie relates to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, and I'm sure you can figure out why without even watching it. The visuals are ASTOUNDING and the acting is far from weak. It even features cast members who were in Hero and CTHD.
The music intertwines with the fight scenes to create a breathtaking experience that you couldn't even imagine reading this review. This is one of those movies where 'words can't describe the beauty'. Do yourself a favor and buy this movie (or rent it, if you are one of THOSE people).
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2005
With visuals adorned by nature's beauty and a story as passionate as the human spirit, time will give House of Flying Daggers the great appreciation it deserves.
I just saw the movie last night after purchasing the soundtrack, out of curiosity, the week before. (I, finally, went to get the one for Hero and saw the one for this nearby.) I became familiar with the music first, and then I surfed the Web for movie reviews and viewer commentary. Unfortunately, I encountered many negative interpretations of the film's story, action, acting, direction etc. After seeing the movie, I realized that the same elements which were criticized in this film were celebrated when presented within more "conventional" productions.
As wisely pointed out by a reviewer on another website, the tale is from the tragic tradition of storytelling. Similarly, the exquisitely choreographed action sequences and the breathtaking cinematography are based in artistry - not reality. Although the plot - which wasn't that logic-defying (especially, when compared to those of Star Wars and The Matrix) - revolved around issues that may feel foreign to some, the drama's emotional core resonated with the most fundamental of human longings: The need for a life of freedom and the yearning for love without fear.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2008
This was one of the Blu-Ray discs that I bought at the same time I bought my player, as I was guessing that the vibrant colors of this film would look great in HD. Unfortunately, there is so much film grain and visual noise that I had to drastically reduce the backlight and the color saturation on my LCD in order to make it less distracting. But this eliminated the primary artistic virtue of the film: its colorful palette. If this had been what Blu-Ray had to offer, I would have returned the player immediately, as I had seen better picture quality from upscaled DVDs and from HD downloads in 720p. Thankfully, I was guided towards "I, Robot" and "Ratatouille" and saw what Blu-Ray really has to offer, and it is worth the price of admission. But the shoddy presentation of "House of Flying Daggers" nearly soured me on the whole experience before I really got started.
I rather enjoyed this film on standard-definition cable TV when I first saw it. The colors are marvelous, the fight scenes are fluid, and the plot is simple but effective. The main character, Wind, is kind of a jerk at first, but he grows on you a little by the end. I would describe the acting as competent, even a bit above-average for what you'd expect. For a foreign language film, we English-speaking viewers need decent acting through facial expressions and body language, and there's enough here to adequately serve the story.
I don't know what equipment was used to shoot this film, but I hope that a great transfer could be done one day when Blu-Ray has settled into its place as the dominant disc format. This is the type of film that has great potential as an HD viewing experience, but it hasn't come close to realizing that quite yet. If you have and enjoy the DVD of this movie, I would recommend against buying the Blu-Ray at this time.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The movie looks beautiful. Some of the scenes are extremely creative: the "Echo" game/dance sequence and the bamboo forest battle are stunning. Ziyi Zhang is stunning as well. The costumes and colors are a visual feast. The complexity of the plot is amazing as well. The movie has plot holes, but it does tie a lot together.
The movie has several problems. It is melodramatic. The characters are too tragic and almost unbelievable. Ziyi Zhang's clothes get ripped so many times in the throes of passion; it is almost funny. The biggest problem I have with the movie is that it focuses too much on the love story conflicts at the end and does not resolve the bigger conflicts.
I enjoyed the movie. In spots, it soared and at other times, I rolled my eyes. I kept comparing this movie to "Hero." "Hero" to me was a slightly better movie. I enjoyed the love relationships better in Flying Daggers, but the nobility of Hero redeemed the movie for me. Flying Daggers ended weakly. However, both movies were far better than your typical Hollywood fare.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2008
As others have warned, Sony seriously botched the job on this film's transfer to Blu-ray... so bad that it seems irresponsible to be selling this far inferior product when compared to the regular DVD. Until Sony reissues a remastered version, don't waste your money!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2005
I have now just returned home from watching this movie -- it appears that it's on its way out of the theaters, as I checked my local listings in Yahoo! movies and so few theaters have it. This movie was so good that I may very well go see it again tomorrow night after work, before it's gone from the theaters.
I first became a fan of this kind of movie after I saw "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". Growing up I enjoyed martial arts movies, but they just don't compare. I love the accompanying sweet music, the breathtaking scenery, the slow-motion martial arts, and the excellent actors. "Hero" with Jet Li is another great example of this new genre of martial arts movies that seems to focus on the "arts" instead of the fighting.
Hopefully there will be many other movies like these coming out soon in the theaters. I have both the Crouching Tiger and Hero movies on DVD and I'll just have to wait for the "House of Flying Daggers" to come out on DVD.
In the meantime, I'm going to buy the motion picture soundtrack and hopefully see it at least one more time before it disappears from the theaters.
If you haven't seen this movie, definitely try and catch it before it's gone from the theaters; but at least there are the Crouching Tiger and Hero movies available on DVD for your viewing pleasure.
Take care and be well!
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I think Yimou Zhang has made the two most visually beautiful films I have seen in the past year, with "Ying xiong" ("Hero") and "Shi mian mai fu" ("House of Flying Daggers" but literally translated as "Ambush From Ten Sides"). The common denominator is not the martial arts action couple with the Hong Kong wire work but Zhang's use of rich colors. I know that Akira Kurosawa pained a field of grass gold for a scene that ended up being deleted in "Ran," and for all I know Zhang painted all those bamboo trees green in this 2004 film. But Zhang has been paying attention to color for as long as I have been watching his films, which goes all the way back to 1991's "Da hong deng long gao gao gua" ("Raise the Red Lantern"). The man is an expert at creating scenes of spectacular visual beauty on a motion picture screen and this time he is really into blue and green big time.
This is a movie where you do not really care about the plot beyond its ability to move us from one beautiful set piece to the next. Mei (Zhang Ziyi) is the blind daughter of the former leader of the Flying Daggers, a secret group that is combating the corrupt Tang Dynasty of the 9th century in China. The name comes from the fact that they throw daggers, and there are some daggers that are followed by the camera in this film the same way George Lucas followed the X-fighters in the trench during the attack on the Death Star. Mei is a dancer at the Peony Palace, and Captain Leo (Andy Lau), a local cop, sends his young colleague Captain Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to investigate the mysterious blind dancer who is suspected of having ties to the Flying Daggers. While you know this is the beginning of a romance, because who could not fall in love with the beautiful and talented Mei, what matters is that we are up to the first spectacular set pieces, the Echo Game, played between Leo and Mei where the blind dancer shows she definitely knows how to play the game (and strike a pose).
The battle in the bamboo forest is the most impressive of these sequences, but I liked the choreographed battle in the field of grass with the two lovers encircled by swordsmen and the part in the final fight where it starts to snow. I understand there are homages in this film, but while I get the link to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" going back to the bamboo forest scene from "A Touch of Zen" is beyond me because I do not watch too many of these films. But, wow, the ones I have seen make me wonder why I am not watching at least one in a week and the answer is I know in my heart they cannot all be as beautiful as this one. What will Zhang come up with next? We cannot but wait to find out (he is currently filming "Qian li zou dan ji," which literally translates as "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" and is apparently about a Japanese father her take his ailing son to China's Yunnan province to learn opera).
Granted, "Shi mian mai fu" has flaws despite its great beauty. The political backdrop of the film seems to matter at the start, what with the emperor being weak and the officials being corrupt and all, but all that really matters is that Mei starts off on the opposite side of Leo and Jin, who best laid plans are going to go astray in ways too tragic for them to forsee. That is because the story is an excuse to get us from one spectacular set piece to the next and the sides exist simply for one lover to cross over to the other. The swordplay is more stylized than I have seen in other films of this genre and seems to involve less wire work as well, which is fine with me, because I would rather see it used selectively as it is here. There is also a song that Mei sings early on where you need to pay attention because it will come back more poignantly later on. The film has an English audio track, but you are obviously advised to go for the sub-titled original audio track because dubbed always sounds dubbed and that means tacky. Gorgeous films do not deserve tacky audio tracks.