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The House of Flying Daggers (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of (45 mins). Look Inside featurette (15 mins). Director's commentary. Cast and crew interviews. Cast and crew biographies. Lovers' music video. Storyboard/film comparison. Location scout visits. Trailers and TV spots.

HAVING dazzled audiences with his beautiful epic, Hero, director, Zhang Yimou, repeats the trick with his follow-up, The House of Flying Daggers, an equally awe-inspiring, must-see cinematic experience.

Set in the year 859, Yimou's stirring tale unfolds as the Tang Dynasty begins to fade under the growing threat posed from rebel groups such as the House of Flying Daggers.

Determined to protect their masters, however, two local police captains hatch a plan to flush out and kill the new leader of the group and begin by tracking her down to a house of pleasure named the Peony Pavilion.

It is here that they encounter and subsequently arrest Mei (Zhang Ziyi), a beautiful blind dancer they suspect of being the daughter of the Flying Daggers' leader.

But far from torturing the truth from her, one of the captains, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), agrees to masquerade as a lone warrior and resuces Mei from prison, in the hope that she will lead them to the secret headquarters of the rebel army.

The rescue is seemless but during the ensuing getaway, Jin finds himself captivated by Mei's passion and beliefs, to the extent that he begins to question his own loyalties and role in the duplicity with fellow captain, Leo (Andy Lau).

To make matters worse, his own soldiers refuse to believe his story and have orders to hunt and kill him, while another of Mei's suitors will stop at nothing to keep her for himself.

The House of Flying Daggers works on so many levels, that it's difficult to know which to enjoy the most.

It is far more emotionally involving than Hero, with the tangled love affair at the centre of the story providing a set of characters that audiences can truly identify with and root for.

And yet such rich emotion does not come at the expense of the martial arts element which, if anything, is even more staggering than the set pieces in Hero (or even Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for that matter).

Yimou has crafted some truly mesmerising action sequences that really have to be seen to be believed.

An early dance sequence, which forms the basis for Mei's capture, sets the standard, deftly combining Yimou's gift for staging beautifully choreographed fight sequences with his near-perfect orchestration of colour and music.

Likewise, a sequence involving Mei's flight from a troop of house-riding soldiers combines moments of bone-crunching brutality with an almost ballet-like poise, lending the film a dream-like, mystical quality that the wilder excesses of Hollywood can only dream of achieving.

A treetop battle in a bamboo forest and the film's snow-bound finale achieve similarly dazzling highs, while sweeping you up in a tidal wave of emotion.

Yimou admits that the success of Hero paved the way for The House of Flying Daggers to work on a larger, more ambitious scale and in delivering such a masterpiece, the director has set himself some impossible standards to live up to.

The film has something for everyone - passion, complexity, double-cross after double-cross and characters that are worth investing time with, not to mention the outstanding choreography.

It is as visually rewarding as it is emotionally enriching and really stands out as one of the films of the year.

I, personally, cannot wait to see it again.

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