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From MOTORCYCLE DIARIES to a HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS... cool foreign flicks attack!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here and I'm absolutely jumping at the bit to see both of these films. THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES has been getting raves on AICN since before Cannes and it sounds like a great film. THE HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS has been a tad more mixed, but everything I've seen on the film is beautiful and the below reviewer was knocked out. I can't wait! Hrmmm... Zhang... droooollll...

Hey Harry,

It was almost four years ago to the day that I went to my computer to tell you about the US premiere of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" that I had seen at the Telluride Film Fest. Now I'm back to tell you about the newest spectactular movie from the Far East: Yimou Zhang's "House of Flying Daggers."

A tradtition at the festival in Telluride is to have a nightly screening of some of the bigger movies on a huge outdoor screen set up in the park in the middle of town. Last night they showed the wonderful HoFD, and I gotta say, it was awesome! The movie was introduced by none other than Ziyi Zhang, the gorgeous Chinese actress from Crouching Tiger and Yimou's last film, "Hero." Unfortunately, I was too far from her to take in all her beauty, but the movie made sure to feature her much more than her smallish part in Hero.

On to the movie...what can I say, this is one of the best movies I have seen in a very long time. The comparisons to "Hero" are obvious, from the expansive and gorgeous set pieces to the exquisite cinematography and the fight scenes which are beyond compare. The score is also rich and wonderful.

The basic story is that it is around 800 AD in China and the Tang dynasty is failing, due in part to the insurrection of a rebel group known as the House of Flying Daggers. Two constables are assigned to track down and kill the new leader of the Flying Daggers, and plan to do so by following the movements of a purported member of the clan who is known to be hiding in a local brothel. The member in hiding is the stunningly beautiful Ziyi Zhang, the "top girl" at the brothel and blind, to boot.

This is primarily a love story, but that doesn't stop Yimou from packing the movie with fight scenes that will leave your heart pumping and speechless. Much of the story takes place outdoors, and once again Yimou paints a portrait of China that is colorful and awe-inspiring. There is a fight in a bamboo forest that outdoes the CTHD one about a hundred-fold. The color-schemes that were used in "Hero" to denote different perspectives were used in a much more natural fashion in this story as the characters traverse the countryside of China. Bright green bamboo turns to yellow falling leaves turns to a stark and quiet snow-covered plain over the course of the film, and with all these colors the story changes emotionally.

This film has fight scenes that are as good (if not better) than "Hero." Just wait until you see how the Flying Daggers clan got their name...it will knock your socks off! The story is compelling and involving, better than Hero's repetitive plot or CTHD's plodding one. A good indicator of how good this film is lies in the crowd reaction. It was a COLD night in the park last night and several times over the course of the movie it started raining pretty hard (it was kinda a cold mist most of the movie). Despite all these external discomforts, almost every one of the several-hundred person crowd stayed to watch the movie. It was that good.

Harry, if you look out for one movie in the next few months, let it be this one. It has everything you could want in a martial arts film with a great story, as well. I'd venture to say it is even better than "Hero."

-Noah_n_Telluride

Can't wait!!! Now for the good word on MOTORCYCLE DIARIES!!!

Hi Harry,

The Motorcycle Diaries

This has been out in the UK for about a week, and I had the good fortune to catch it on a day off last weekend.

Walter Salles' (Central Station, co-produced City of God) new film tells the story of the young Ernesto 'Che' Guevara's voyage around South America with his friend Alberto 'Mial' Granado, and the discoveries and personal journey made during the 12000km+ trip.

I'll start with the negatives, or negative (for there is only one). I haven't read Che Guevara's diaries, on which the film is based. Nor, indeed, do I know much about his life or his work as a revolutionary. Nonetheless as a 'Great Man's Origins' story, in which category this film definitely sits, the whole thing feels a little too convenient; the influences too obvious, the references too direct. You know throughout this film exactly where it's heading. Having said that, maybe it was foolish of me to expect anything else from a biopic of such a passionately adored character.

But that is my only gripe. Set aside the above issue, and what you are left with is a beautiful, beautiful tale well told of two friends sharing an extraordinary experience. I was surprised at Salles' ability to differentiate the characters so clearly despite their almost identical reactions to most situations and events. I was half anticipating de la Serna's Mial to become the antagonist to Garcia Bernal's 'Fuser' (Guevara's childhood nickname) at some point in the film, but that never happened. Instead, Salles' chooses to use Mial as the engine, bouncing off Fuser's introspection to keep the story moving along. In doing so, Mial might be in danger of becoming little more than a plot device, but Salles carves him into a character of equal standing to Guevara, the oil to Fuser's vinegar. De la Serna's performance brings out the quality of the writing of his part; the vices and foibles of the young man, his humour, insatiable appetite for wo! men, and silver tongue are all delightfully handled.

By contrast, Bernal's performance is one of introspection. The odd melodramatic asthma attack aside (I'm an asthmatic myself - if you were that hyper during an attack, you'd be dead in about 30 minutes), his performance is spot on. From his leaving his family behind at the start of the film, through his first moment of violent rebellion (throwing a rock at an abusive mining company truck), to his explaining to his friend at the end why he needs to spend a long while alone, Bernal is not overcome by the magnitude of the man he is portraying. He plays him as a kid on his first real adventure away from home, much like any pre-college teen in the UK on his GAP year. The beauty is in the subtleties, and through nuances he suggsts that what he witnesses and experiences over those thousands of miles will stay with him and shape him for many years to come.

Not much to be said about the rest of the cast. The supporting players do well, even if not a one of them is on screen for longer than about 5 minutes through the whole film.

The diversity of locations is astounding, Salles' giving a real sense of what South America might have been almost half a century ago. He finds indigenous Peruvians who still speak Quechua, he shoots in an unspoilt Amazon of timber huts and rafts, he even gathered a skeleton crew (I'm guessing here) and got genuine footage of his two leads in Machu Picchu. This is all ably, and at times beautifully, shot by Eric Gautier (Intimacy).

It being about a week now since I saw the film, it has had a chance to settle. The strongest feeling I have for the film now is wonderment. I want to read Che's diaries, I want to go back to South America, I want to meet all these extraordinary people. But above all I want to see the film again, see a young man to whom I can relate, not a revolutionary giant whose name perhaps holds more significance now than his deeds, whose face is emblazoned on more posters and t-shirts than James Dean.

Fuser is just a kid like any other. In this film we come to understand how he became Che Guevara, a man unlike any other. If this isn't a shoo-in for best foreign film Oscar nom, I'll eat my hat. It's gorgeous.

The film.

Not my hat.

Don Pablo



Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 7, 2004, 6:30 a.m. CST

    I hear Ziyi Zhang smells nice too....

    by ChickenGeorgeVII

    I hope her poop smells as sweet.....I'd certainly like to do her up the anus....TWICE!...And thus, and you wouldn't? - - - George, The 7th Chicken!!!!

  • Sept. 7, 2004, 7:58 a.m. CST

    HoFD

    by Marshy

    This movie really isn't very good. The love triangle is really fragile and the last twenty minutes or so drags on and on in a laughably melo-dramatic way. Some of the early fight scenes are quite entertaining and prettily composed but the twist involving one of the main characters is so dumb..I guess it was supposed to be a joke at the expense of Infernal Affairs - the local Hong Kong audience I saw it with all thought it was lame - constantly laughing at the wrong moments.

  • Sept. 7, 2004, 8:41 a.m. CST

    RE: Flying Daggers

    by The Tao of Joe

    I am sure that the Flying Daggers will appear to be the good guys in this film, seeking justified revenge from a cruel leader. Then the leader will some how convince them that he shouldn't be killed because despite the fact that yes he is a threat to a diverse culture and language, and yes, he has killed plenty of innocent men, women, and children to have his way, the ends justify the means. The protagonist will then lay down their sword, be killed, and then be honored by the same government who to this day kills christians and buddhist for similar reasons. Yes people, I didn't care so much for hero. It was really just an expensive, beautiful pro empire film. They could have easily made the same thing about GW Bush in Iraq. I will admit though that the film is pretty, and I will probably go see Flying Daggers on a bootleg at the very least.

  • Sept. 7, 2004, 8:58 a.m. CST

    house...

    by no-no

    ...of flying daggers: good looking and fun. motorcycle diaries: good looking but a tad boring.

  • Sept. 7, 2004, 2:20 p.m. CST

    better than Hero? whow this HOFD-review sounds promising

    by CurryIce

  • Sept. 7, 2004, 5:13 p.m. CST

    Hmmm....

    by Theta

    I really hope HoFD is more emotionally engaging than "Hero." I liked the historicity in it, but the fact that no one aside from Jet Li has any sort of personal motive, and some cinematically sloppy moments (would it have killed Yimou to show the "Everything Under the Sky" characters Broken Sword draws in the sand instead of just TELLING us about it?) really brought it down for me.

  • I have seen this film in Singapore and I must say while visually its facinating to watch, beautiful people etc, the story line was as such people were laughing at the most dramatic points of the film. Like the previous post said, it is way to melodramatic. The story is like a daytime soap with amazing effects and cinematography.

  • Sept. 8, 2004, 1:23 a.m. CST

    Diaries

    by Wyrdy the Gerbil

    I saw it in a preview screening a few weeks ago ....wow the review got it spot on an amazing film that both shows the poverty and injustices heaped on the poor while also full of the zest for life in South America during the fifties, the scenes in the leper colony go some way to dispel the myths about the disease as well

  • Sept. 8, 2004, 3:08 a.m. CST

    i was expecting "Yi Mou Zhang" or "Zi Yi Zhang"....

    by DarthBakpao

    and it turned out i was right! Almost make me vomit everytime i read people type chinese or korean name backward where they put surname behind. "Zhang Yi Mou" , "Zhang Zi Yi", "Park Chan-Wook" or "Kim Ki-Duk" please!

  • Sept. 8, 2004, 8:08 a.m. CST

    I definitely get into the visuals, it helps when you can't under

    by minderbinder

    You kinda end up watching. (including reading the subtitles) And for a period piece, I don't need to agree with the politics to enjoy the movie. It's not like Hero was a kung fu movie about baby rapers or something.

  • Sept. 8, 2004, 11:34 a.m. CST

    House of Flying Daggers

    by Mafu

    I'm looking forward to seeing this film. I loved the visual artistry of "Hero," and I don't really care about its larger political ramifications. Now I hear that Chinese and Taiwanese audiences laughed at "House of Flying Daggers" for its elongated melodrama and strange speaking style. OK. Well, for Chinese and Taiwanese, this will be an issue. I have a feeling Zhang Yimou used this speaking style to place the film in a historical context, but I don't speak Chinese so I can't be sure. I think "House of Flying Daggers" will be far better received in America, since Americans won't understand the speaking style. We'll be far more interested in the visuals and the storyline. Sometimes foreign films do really well in America, even though they were poorly received in their own country, "Hero" being the latest example. But then again, some films that Americans hated are some of the biggest box office hits in Asia, ever. The pendulum swings both ways.

  • Sept. 8, 2004, 11:45 a.m. CST

    To Theta

    by Mafu

    You wrote: "would it have killed Yimou to show the "Everything Under the Sky" characters Broken Sword draws in the sand instead of just TELLING us about it?" Yimou does show us the characters, near the end of the film.

  • Sept. 8, 2004, 3:06 p.m. CST

    Martial-Art movies aren't that successful in Asia.

    by CurryIce

    If you believe it or not: CrouchungTigerHiddenDragon and all new movies where Martial-Art has an important element aren't really successful neither in China, Taiwan or Korea. The people are fed up with those movies even 'though there are directors who make all these wonderful films wheter it's a drama or fantasy.

  • Sept. 8, 2004, 4:15 p.m. CST

    ancient-costume-drama martial arts movies in the Chinese speakin

    by eraser_x

    The people have seen it all. So, unless something really turns convention on its head and has big names attached, as Unforgiven did, then it's unlikely that an ancient-costume-drama martial arts movie would be a big crowd pleaser in the Chinese speaking world. Incidentally, the talkbacks on AICN for martial-arts movies (e.g., Hero) are pretty lame because so many talkbackers evidentally know nothing about martial arts movies. The more lame talkbackers are like teenagers who have seen only Open Range and The Quick And The Dead and think they can say something interesting about Westerns. Pathetic.

  • Sept. 9, 2004, 5:12 p.m. CST

    Did Hero really do badly in China?

    by minderbinder

    It has made over 100M outside the US, how much of that was from China?

  • Sept. 9, 2004, 7:02 p.m. CST

    Hero did well in China, but that was YEARS ago.

    by eraser_x

    My sense is that the audience in China has really moved on, away from this type of movie. China is a trendy place, man. I could be wrong, but that's the sense I get.