Jonathan Downard photograph

House of Flying Daggers Movie Review

June 1, 2005

I must admit that I'm guilty of having certain expectations and preconcieved notions about martial arts films. When I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill, and several others, I confess that I was disappointed by all of the supernatural mumbo-jumbo, and found the stories to be lacking real fire. When I saw the trailer for House of Flying Daggers, it was the aftertaste of many other films that made me delay seeing it.

But early on, Daggers proved to be different. There were no people flying and nothing that wasn't much more than a slight stretch of conceivable human ability. I have been in the presence of martial artists and gymnasts that could have possibly acheived most of the stunts in this film. The only thing I found to be overly magical was the erratic and direction-changing flight of the daggers themselves. Beyond that, the special effects and actual physical artistry in this film are second to none.

Created by some of the alumni of the film Hero, what really makes this a great movie is the story. It is a Shakespearean tragedy of the highest order, and yet it is much more intellectually stimulating than most of Shakespeare's usual fare in that it is filled with plot twists and circumstances that are somewhat more difficult to predict. The amazing fight scenes and effects are subordinate to a tale of a young woman of astounding abilities and questionable origins who is abducted in the midst of a political power struggle. A rebel faction, the House of Flying daggers, opposes the Imperial army, and our heroine and her captor are caught in the struggle and a violent love triangle that captivates and rivets the viewer. As I said, there are plot twists and subtle story elements that I dare not ruin for you with too much elaboration. It is a movie stuffed with beautiful direction, a complex and engaging story (that might inspire a tear or two), vibrant and mood-fluctuating color, brilliant action, and an attractive cast. Oddly enough, the English overdubbing is very well-synched and easy to forget notice of. This is a martial arts action/drama that any fan of film should be able to appreciate.

copyright 2005, Jonathan Downard

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