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The House of Flying Daggers

Braved a light snow tonight (or last night, technically) to catch a late showing of House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou's followup to Hero, or at least American audiences' followup. I'm still absorbing and reflecting, so this will probably be short.

Critics who whined about the "complicated, obscure plot" of Hero will be happy to know that there is certainly a simpler plot at work in HFD. The movie's no less visually sumptuous, but struck me as a little less caught up with the iconography of color, season, etc. than Hero. But (again) that may just be me as an American, and that's also not to say that this isn't visually stunning.

I found myself, towards the end, hearing echoes of Romeo and Juliet in the plot, although there are some crucial differences. Nevertheless, characterization comes with small, incidental details, in a way that leaves the characters feeling almost archetypal in the same way that Shakespeare's work functions for us. The movie's set as a period piece, but it's not really "historical." It's focused on the love story, but it does so with broad, sweeping gestures that don't really bring the characters close.

If I had one qualm here, it's that, as I thought about it, it seemed like there were parts of the movie (early ones) that, upon reflection, were designed for the viewer rather than for narrative consistency. Coming out here as quickly as it has on the tail of Hero (I haven't even watched the DVD of it that I got for Christmas yet), it's hard to avoid comparison. For me, HFD was a notch below Hero, even as it maintained the high standards for visual production that Hero displayed. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhang Ziyi are very charismatic, but their characters were a little less so for me than those in Hero.

All of which is to say that I'd still rate HFD very highly. I didn't regret paying full price for it for a second. If I have more to share about it, I'll return to this post, but for the moment, that's all.


I watched them about a week apart and was, of course, stunned by the cinematic gorgeousness of it all. I thought they were both worth a second go-round, but something about the simplicity of HFD bothered me. (It probably wouldn't have if I hadn't compared it to Hero, and I still can't put my finger on it.) Plus, I've had a thing for Zhang Ziyi ever since Crouching Tiger.