Movies/Entertainment,  Off the Shelf

Off the Shelf…’The House of Flying Daggers’

I’m not really into “love stories” or sweeping romantic epics involving two people hiding their love for each other.  I guess, becasue I’m a guy, I’m more likely to watch an action flick or some brainy feature with a twist ending (and either one with a scotch in my hand)…what can I say?  Guilty as charged.

I first saw this years ago in the theaters and assumed, based on how it was advertised, it would be an awesome martial-arts flick with gorgeous set designs.  Well I got one out of two but was none-the-less impressed with the outcome.  Hidden behind a cool sounding title like “The House of Flying Daggers” hides an unassuming love story that (if you’re familiar with Mandarin or Cantonese) turns out to be called Lovers – boy was that false advertising.  Still, this film is one of those rare instances where something so generally “not my cup of (green) tea” turned out to be one of the most beautiful movies I will admit to having seen.  For more on what this movie is all about, have a look at the video below.  It’s not a trailer, but a montage set to the film’s soundtrack which is equally as beautiful as the film.

For me, this film is sort of an anomaly as it is both a martial-arts flick (though not as much as I’d hoped for) and a love story.  That combination rarely plays out as intended except for the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon film (which I didn’t really get but maybe I just watched it too late one night).  Anyway, my reasons for liking “Daggers” are still being researched to this day (hence my most recent viewing for this post).  You could say one element that won me over from the first scene is Ziyi Zhang because she is so undeniably cute you just can’t resist her charm.  Seriously, I could see her do a tissue commercial and I’d go out and buy stock in Kleenex after seeing it.

Since this film is a love story, hence it’s native title “Lovers”, you have to set up the characters and find out who’s in love with who, so to establish an interesting plot that makes this ride worth taking.  Otherwise it’d be an episode of Melrose Place and it wouldn’t be worth writing about.  Anyway, during the Tang Dynasty, a secret organization called “The House of the Flying Daggers” has arisen to oppose the corrupt government.  One lead which the police are investigating is that a local (blind, mind you) dancer named Mei may be able to lead them to the “House” or be an agent herself.   Police Captains Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) devise a plan to get Mei (Zhang) to take one of them to her leaders.  Since none of the three are revealing their true identities to the other party, a very careful game of secrets and lies takes place.  Each step of the journey Jin, Mei and later Leo each uncover revealing information about one another further proving that no one is who they seem.

While this sounds like an interesting premise, this only gets more interesting when Jin and Leo start falling for Mei.  Soon after, more and more secrets are revealed creating some worthwhile plot turns.  The martial-arts in this film (though decently impressive) don’t drive this film as much as the whole “Lovers” plot does.  That said, being a guy (you may find this hard to believe) I really didn’t mind.  The story was just so beautiful (rivaled only by the set designs) that I frankly didn’t think it needed any action scenes because the story line was that impacting and involving.  Even reading the subtitles didn’t deter me from liking “Daggers” or “Lovers” (take your pick of titles), and this was one well acted, well shot and intricately designed film.  And the ending…boy was that subtle tear-jerker.  Nothing like waterworks produced after The Notebook but a solid 2nd or 3rd if you ask me.

To sum this all up, (as I have written above) this is a love story per se.  Though it exists just a bit outside my comfort zone, in terms of favorable genres, this film succeed with me in a surprisingly big way.  “Daggers” was a superb combination of great visuals, acting, story and some fancy fighting.  These elements, I believe, aid in blurring the lines allowing to take what you want from it (like a buffet) so it could either be an action movie or a love story.  Doing so makes it something that appeals to men and women.  To go back to the name change for a minute, “Lovers” was reworked to get interest with Western cinema to sell it better when marketed and released in America.  But for a movie that is this good, they could have called it “Fish” and (once the initial pessimism subsided) I would still enjoy and recommend it.

G-S-T Seal of Approval: GRANTED