Ahoy, squirts! Quint here... this review has my scratching my head... It's mixed and I can undstand why, but take a look at that last line from the reviewer... I mean, I think HAROLD AND KUMAR is a fun flick, but what on earth made the reviewer choose that film out of everything that is opening or has already opened this summer? Curiouser and curiouser...
"The House of Flying Daggers" reunites director Zhang Yimou with his writing team from "Hero" to produce yet another artsy-fartsy kung fu movie in the vein of the aforementioned "Hero" as well as Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." The problem is that it suffers from all the usual problems of a Chinese flick made with the sole intention of selling it to Western audiences. See, movies like CTHD and Hero are real yawners for the average Asian movie goer. Hero pretty much tanked over here, and although CTHD had respectable box office returns it didn't make half as much money as it did in the West. That's because they don't feature a whole heck of a lot of the standard kung fu storytelling conventions the Chinese like. The House of Flying Daggers, like those other two movies, did receive some critical acclaim on the festival circuit, most notably Cannes, but let me tell you: If it had been a Western movie with more or less the same plot, the only critical acclaim it would have received would have been from the Jean-Claude van Damme fan club circuit because in all likelihood it would have starred him (or Christopher Lambert trying to recapture some of his lost Highlander glory.) Because it's a Chinese movie, one directed by Mainland cinematic wunderkind Zhang Yimou (he of "Raise the Red Lantern" fame, a movie so unbelievably boring and melodramtic that it makes me want to slash my wrists repeatedly), everyone seems to have on their "Sinophile-goggles" when viewing it.
The movie, while entertaining, ain't all that.
The plot in a nutshell is this: During the later part of the Tang dynasty when the government is in decline, Jin and Leo are two constables responsible for finding and destroying a revolutionary movement called "The House of Flying Daggers." The movie opens with a bit of backstory text painted across the screen in Chinese characters, then with Jin and Leo discussing how to perform their mission. It turns out that a local whorehouse named the Peony Pavillion just hired a smoking hot new dancing girl who is rumored to be the blind daughter of the revolutionary movement's old, now dead, leader. Jin, who is played by Japanese/Cantonese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro (whom you might recognize in the West if you have ever played the Playstation game "Onimusha"), is charged with going to the whorehouse and more or less seducing her. He does so with glee and eagnerness because, as he explains, "he likes to flirt with the ladies." In case you're wondering, that's a euphemism for raping them, which he almost does in the very next scene after she gives him the medieval Chinese equivalent of a lap-dance. Jin has a beer and cheats on his wife. Then Captain Leo shows up, arrests him for lewd and indecent behavior and arrests the girl because as we all know any woman who gives you a lap-dance is just asking to be raped, so it's all her fault really. She plays the dumb innocent naif. Leo makes her an offer she can't refuse: If she can beat him at the "echo" game, he'll let her go. This sets the stage for one of the larger and more impressive martial arts displays in the movie and we're only 10 minutes into it by this point. Mei (the blind girl, played by Zhang Ziyi) is surrounded by drums. Each time Leo (Andy Lau, or Liu Dehua), strikes a drum with a stone pellet, she must strike the same one but to the improvisation of the Mos Eisley Cantina Band in the background. Well, she wins and he decides to arrest her anyway because he thinks once she's back in a jail cell he can ravage her until his johnson bleeds.
Back at the station, Leo asks Mei to tell him all about the Flying Daggers, all the while leering at her like a sailor on shoreleave in Fiji. She doesn't speak, so he threatens to break out the Bondage, Submission, and Dominance gear and really go to town. Yet, she remains silent. Jin thinks his penis could loosen her up, but Leo has a better idea. He wants Jin to pretend to be one of those ninjas from Queer Eye for a Straight Guy who kidnaps the straight man and takes him to Gaytropolis for his makeover except in this case he has to rescue the blind hotty Mei. Once they get out of town, he thinks she'll lead them to the Flying Daggers secret mountain headquarters. Jin, of course, agrees, because now he'll have plenty of opportunities to insert his man-thing in her swampgina as she will feel beholden to him for saving her life. He breaks her out of jail with the kind of aplomb and homosexual abandon only a purple-clad ninja can muster.
Once on the road, the plot sort of falls by the way side and the audience is subjected to an hour of watching Jin try to seduce Mei. There are some decent fight sequences, and some humor, and one scene involving Zhang Ziyi's digitally blurred out breasts and a couple of guys in donkey suits.
In the movie's third act, we learn that Leo has been a mole all along. He and Mei are really a couple. Unfortunately, she loves Jin now. That makes Leo mad and so he tries to kill her for having a beer and cheating on him. The reason, by the way, Leo sent Mei and Jin on this "mission" was to lure some army General we never see to bring his army to the secret mountain fortress of the Flying Dagger squadron where he'll be ambushed and defeated. But we never see this because the director is more concerned with the melodramatic love triangle of Leo-Jin-Mei. The three of them confront one another on field (Mei, although stabbed through the heart isn't dead yet -- and much to the amusement of the audience, she will fake-die at least 4 more times. Seriously, she's like one of them zombies in Night of the Living Dead, except hotter). As they fight, a freak snow storm blows in and covers everything in 20 feet of totally gonadular powder, dude. Cue the Francis Ford Coppola angelic choir music and you've got a scene so laden with saccharine that if you're diabetic you'll have an insulin attack and if you're not you will not longer after walking out of the theater. Everyone except for Jin dies. At least until the sequel, "Children of the Flying Daggers."
Final verdict: C+. It looks good, and the fight scenes are well-done but lack of decent characterization, the bizarre plot twists, and over-the-top melodrama make it substandard fare in a summer when you've got movies like Spiderman 2 and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.
Call me Exegetai.