House of Flying Daggers is the latest movie from Zhang Yimou, the guy who directed Hero. Depending on how much you counted on Zhang Yimou to keep making beautiful art movies, it’s either the final step in his commercialization or a slam-bang action movie without all that complex flashback stuff. Either way, those who complained about the politics of Hero will hopefully be relieved to find that House of Flying Daggers is light on the political subtext.
What you get is, really, a Shaw Brothers movie for the new millenium, with superb production values. There are rebels and an empire in decay and lovers and jealousy. There is not extended meditation on the nature of truth and lies, and while honor is important, it’s important as the substrate for the passions of love and lust.
Andy Lau really is a pretty good choice for that particular kind of story, too. He’s cute and roguish and all. I’m kind of wishing that Zhang Ziyi wasn’t in all the kung fu art flicks we get on these shores, but I have to admit she’s doing a good job with the roles.
Back to the kung fu: if Hero was Zhang Yimou’s practice run for a kung fu movie, then House of Flying Daggers is where he cuts loose. There’s stuff in here that’s going to be remembered for a while. In particular, there’s a fight scene towards the middle of the movie in a bamboo forest which is startlingly fresh and new, not so much in the actual kung fu but in the way in which he uses the environment. Nobody’s ever done quite that with trees before.
If you’re in LA or New York, you can see it on December 3rd. Everyone else is waiting till the 17th, or you can be a region-free liberated DVD watcher like me and get it early. I’ll see it again on the big screen, though, you betcha.