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...
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."
Can't wait!!! Now for the good word on MOTORCYCLE DIARIES!!!
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.
Not my hat.