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HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (article first published : 2005-11-1)

House of Flying Daggers offers breathtaking visuals, vibrant colour schemes, balletic action sequences, glorious locations, fine performances from an attractive cast and inspired direction. This all goes to make this Cannes Film Festival contender from last year a movie to remember - and revisit.

It's the latest work from director Zhang Yimou who made his name with art house hits such as Raise the Red Lantern and who scored one of his biggest successes with the epic, cerebral, elegant and more stylised Hero.

Presented with English subtitles, the new film is a lot more intimate, albeit still spectacular and similar in tone to Hero and Ang Lee's superb Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Another common element is gorgeous porcelain doll-like Zhang Ziyi who featured in all three films.

In House of Flying Daggers, set in 859AD, she plays a blind dancer and courtesan who becomes embroiled in a tale of love, hate, deception, jealousy and revenge.

Numerous rebel groups are on the scene to wag fingers at and cross swords with increasingly decadent rulers. Chief among these secret groups is the body of the film title: wizards with blades, whose new leader's identity and whereabouts are not known.

When whispers have it that the blind dancer Mei (Ziyi) is, in reality, the daughter of the rebel group's late former leader, two handsome tang Dynasty captains Leo (Andy Lau) and ladies’ man Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are spurred on to investigate. It is hoped that, with some deception and careful persuasion. Mei will lead the captains to the House of the Flying Daggers.

However things do not pan out quite as planned and before the finale played out, after a twist or two, during a ferocious snow storm on a hillside-director, Yimou flies his audience from one glittering set piece to another.

The opening brothel dance by Ziyi, in which she wears a flowing dress with ultra-long sleeves used to replicate random drumbeats, is one of the most memorable screen sequences of the year.

Ditto a breathtaking, gravity-defying battle and chase in a bamboo forest that even manages to eclipse Ang Lee's similar sequence from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Special mention must also be made of the dagger-hurling expertise of the rebel gang. Talk about poetry in motion.

If it's a great action flick you want, one with style and exuberance, forget the Hollywood fodder and treat yourself to this gem. It's one of the year's best! Rating 9/10 – Billy Suter




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