Like writer-producer-director Zhang Yimou's 2002 HERO, this sumptuously beautiful, period martial-arts picture is a feast for the eyes from beginning to end. But where HERO used a series of RASHOMON-like (1950) variations on a single narrative — each with its own distinct color palette — to explore the notion of self-sacrifice for the greater good, this film pivots on a romantic triangle as overwrought as it is stylized. It's like a Douglas Sirk melodrama ratcheted up with fists of fury and wrapped in apparently endless yards of shimmering silk. 859 A.D.: After 249 years, China's Tang Dynasty is in decline and rebel factions have sprung up all over the country. The most powerful is the secretive House of Flying Daggers. Given an imperial order to find and kill the new leader of the House in a mere 10 days, Feng Tian-county police officials Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) seize on the rumor that dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi), newly hired by the Peony Pavilion, is connected to the group. Jin visits undercover as a libertine and asks the Madam (Song Dandan) for the blind but superbly physically controlled Mei. Jin stages a drunken scene and Leo rushes to arrest both him and Mei. Though Leo makes a show of threatening her with torture, he has a more subtle plan in mind: Jin, a brash ladies' man, will break Mei out of jail, profess sympathy with the House of Flying Daggers and offer to escort her back to her comrades. He will then gradually win her trust through a carefully staged series of battles and persuade her to fall in love with him. But the heart is too restless and unpredictable to be a reliable conspirator and many reversals of fortune lie in store for Mei, Jin and Leo as they grow closer to the stronghold of the House of Flying Daggers. Zhang's extravagantly romantic screenplay, cowritten with Li Feng and Wang Bin, builds to a demented three-way corrida that blends the stylized emotional overkill of DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) by way of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966). It's a lot to swallow, but if you're with the film up to that point, it's not hard to take the last step into rapturous lunacy. The film is dedicated to Hong Kong superstar Anita Mui, who was cast but died of cancer shortly before the movie went into production.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: PG-13
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- Review: Like writer-producer-director Zhang Yimou's 2002 HERO, this sumptuously beautiful, period martial-arts picture is a feast for the eyes from beginning to end. But where HERO used a series of RASHOMON-like (1950) variations on a single narrative — each with… (more)