Tardy Critic’s review published on Letterboxd:
This week we try something new with a co-authored review by Philip and Aaron for House of Flying Daggers.
Philip: Some movies are for certain times, certain people, and I’m fairly convinced that a few are for select individuals at specific moments in history. House of Flying Daggers might be one of those movies.
Aaron: Films like this seem to be a bit polarizing. It didn’t do too well financially, and personally I think it fell short of its potential.
Philip: To be fair, I remember it being much better than it apparently actually is.
Aaron: I was pretty disappointed despite going in with low expectations.
Philip: Right, so plot. The plot of this movie is comparable to something from Michael Bay, meaning, I don’t think it’s terribly good or necessary. The twists it takes are truly comical, though the slow pacing doesn’t do it justice. Massive spoilers ahead, beware!
The story follows Jin, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, a young government captain who is working to hunt down the leader of an elite group called The House of Flying Daggers. As you may expect this secret society is known for their skill with throwing knives. Jin goes undercover to investigate a blind girl named Mei, played by Ziyi Zhang, who is suspected to be the daughter of leader of the Flying Daggers.
Jin and Mei are arrested and taken to prison. Since Jin was undercover, he isn’t really arrested, and breaks Mei out of prison before they are able to torture her for the information they need. The fleeing couple is pursued and Jin puts arrows into the chests of the four government officials who attack them.
This is all part of the plan devised by Leo, another government official, played by Andy Lau, and Jin, in order to have Mei lead them to the Flying Daggers so they can kill the new leader. Jin is distraught that he has to kill government officials just to make his story convincing, but Leo tells him its the only way. As they part company, Leo reminds Jin he should not fall in love with Mei.
As Jin and Mei continue to flee they are attacked again. Apparently this undercover operation is so undercover that the top officials in the government don’t know about it and apparently cannot be told about it, so the leaders are sending more troops to catch the pair. Jin and Mei begin to fall in love as they save each others lives.
Unable to continue his path to inevitable betrayal, Jin chooses to betray the government and does what he can to save Mei. Jin’s efforts are futile, but at the last minute the Flying Daggers show up to save them.
Jin and Leo are captured and taken to the Flying Daggers, where they meet the spokesperson who keeps the real leaders identity hidden. Jin now discovers that Mei is not actually blind, but just pretending. Leo is taken out to be killed, but we then learn he is one of the flying daggers and has been undercover with the government for three years. We also learn that he and Mei were an item, but Mei has now really fallen for Jin, despite knowing him for three days. He leaves with a dagger both figuratively and literally in his back.
Mei is instructed to kill Jin, but decides to set him free instead. In a change of heart she decides to ride after him, but a surprise attack from Leo leaves her dead on the ground. Hearing her cry of pain, Jin returns to the scene only to fight with Leo all through the winter. Leo is about to finish Jin off when Mei gets back up and throws a knife to save his life and then dies. Fin.
Aaron: Thanks for clearing that up Phil. I was still really confused at the end. Normally I love complex films (i.e. Primer).
Philip: The movie is beautifully shot and full of creatively entertaining martial arts fighting.
Aaron: The photography is at times quite stunning. I think this led to my disappointment more than anything else. The opening scenes were so visually compelling and different from the western cinema I’m used to that it was a letdown when the story didn’t come together. The visual effects are also really well done, though it’s hard to critique watching an SD version of the film. I want to visit a bamboo forest now.
Philip: This movie is not for everyone, and it’s probably better when watched with a group of friends. (Like, you know, every other movie.) I will say, though, that I think it’s better to watch with subtitles, rather than English dubs.
Aaron: I imagine it would be better with subtitles. I don’t think every film is best watched with friends. If I were to pick a film to watch with friends I would probably skip House of Flying Daggers.
Philip: Subtitles can make the movie a bit harder to watch because you’re reading it, but the English voice acting is terrible.
Aaron: Yeah. Not the best ADR ever, but I how good can the voiceover acting really be if the number of syllables and the shapes one’s mouth makes are so different between languages?
Philip: This is the third movie from this “trilogy” starring Ziyi Zhang and featuring fanciful fighting scenes. Honestly, I remember liking Hero the best, but I might have seen it first. The story for that one was well told. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has a number of amazing fights in it as well, but I don’t remember as much from it.
Aaron: I am less likely to see the others films now (thanks for ruining them for me Phil). But if someone told me to watch the others very strongly I might be persuaded.
Philip: I would highly recommend Hero. The plot is basically retold multiple times from different people’s point of view and it is fascinating to see how the different character interpret the events. But that’s for another review. So the question, I guess, is would you recommend this movie?
Aaron: I think I already said no. So no.
Philip: House of Flying Daggers is very much like Tree of Life and 2001: A Space Odyssey in that there are devoted fans who see much more than the surface of the film and can feel it speak to them at a deeper level. This movie just might be for you, but then again, maybe not.
Review by Phil Wels & Aaron Evans