Actually I’ve seen the movie in my friend’s, Jennie Lo, house. But I really want to see it on the big screen… Well, it’s more satisfying to see the brilliant colors, eloquent moves, and all those intricacies in theatre-screen format. I really like Zhang Yi Mou’s work. His is always poetic, exquisite, and wild in his own ways. His is always about strong-willed women who empowered themselves to rebel against the patriarchal China in the old times, or, about faithful persons who obey their calls of duties above anything else and fight until they die.
The story itself dances around three main characters, Mei, Jin, and Leo. Leo loves Mei and Mei loves Leo, they’re united because of their ‘secret’ duty. Jin loves Mei and Mei loves Jin, they’re united because they want to be free as the wind. The simple love story becomes very intense with depth of meaning in the hands of Zhang Yi Mou, and world-class actress (Zhang Zi Yi) and actors (Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro).
Mei sings Beauty Song (Jia Ren Qu) on her first meeting with Jin in the Peony House. And Jin sings this song at the end of the movie.
An extraordinary beauty of the North…
The most beautiful being of the world
With her first glance the city kneels in front of her
With her second glance the empire falls into ruins
But there aren’t such an empire or a city
that we can praise more than this beauty.
There are three things that I like in this movie. First is the “Echo Game” scene between Leo and Mei in the Peony House ~ the elaborate set, visual effects, action and fighting. Second is the hunting scene in the bamboo forests between Mei, Jin, and the enemies ~ the performance of martial arts and tradition. And the third is the epic battle scene between Jin and Leo in front of the dying Mei that takes place in intensity from brilliant autumn to cruel winter. Is there any surprised? Of course there is! That’s what I like about martial arts movies. I used to watch it with my family when I grew up, so no wonder I am still hooked by most martial art movies.
After the movie, Avi said that the title shouldn’t be “House of Flying Daggers” but “Lovers.” I think he’s right. But I guess, again, “House of Flying Daggers” has more marketing and promotional values than a mere “Lovers.” Don’t you think so? Well, they have a song titled “Lovers” in their soundtrack… sang beautifully by the American soprano Kathleen Battle.
And following is the link to the complete Sony Pictures Classics Release (press kit) of this movie [html] and [pdf]. A passionate emotional journey in which three people suffer for love ~ it tears them apart, yet they are willing to sacrifice everything for it.
Following are some good articles about this film and its soundtrack.
Steamy times come to Chinese films
By Jean Tang – The New York Times
Early in Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers,” the hero, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), unsheathes a sword to slice the buttons off a showgirl’s robe. This scandalizes onlookers despite the setting – a brothel. Later, the drunken Jin pulls the dancer to the ground, flips her over and tears her dress.
The scene is tame by Western standards; not much is revealed beyond shoulders and prettily disheveled hair. Still, Jin’s display of lust is an expression of a significant, if subtle change that is starting to brew in Chinese film: “Daggers,” which is being released in New York on Dec. 3 by Sony Pictures Classics, may be the first large-scale mainland Chinese movie to assert a frank, liberated approach to sex.
And the Chinese government had no objections.
Movies from Chinese directors working outside mainland China – Taiwan’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” for example, or any of Wong Kar Wai’s sexy tone poems from Hong Kong like “Days of Being Wild” – tend to depict sexuality in a playful light. Mainland movies, on the other hand, often weigh it down, making it into a historical or political statement. Although fighting forms a backdrop for “Daggers,” the political story line is not where the passion is. Martial arts pyrotechnics set among the plains and forests of a make-believe Tang-era battlefield are simply a familiar framework that a prominent Chinese director is using to depict one of the China’s most startling social changes: an ongoing sexual revolution.
The “Daggers” plot revolves around the lovely rebel Mei (Zhang Ziyi) and her on-again, off-again affair with Jin, a government spy. The plot twists don’t detract from what the director himself called the film’s unapologetic hotness: The opening sequence is followed by intense kissing, an impassioned love triangle, a band of women rebel warriors, subtly fetishistic behavior and an attempted rape (although it’s one with all clothes on). Then come the themes that are modern for China, including a dating cat-and-mouse game in which a woman chases her playboy lover and then pushes him away. Call it “Sex and the Bamboo Forest.”
In a telephone interview from Beijing, Zhang said he conceived “Daggers” in the late 1990s as a companion to “Hero,” his epic about the birth of the first Chinese empire.
The two movies share the theme of sacrifice. In “Hero,” Zhang said, the individual sacrifices everything for an overriding political goal. In “Daggers,” the characters give up everything for romantic love.
“For thousands of years, there’s been a tradition of teaching us in China to think in terms of the collective experience, so we are rarely able to act in accordance with personal desires or emotions,” he said. “Now young people, especially under Western influences, have become much more interested in themselves and their own values.”
Wendy Larson, professor of East Asian languages and literatures at the University of Oregon, said: “Sexuality isn’t playful in mainland Chinese movies. It’s an expression of revolutionary passion, or it’s linked to loyalty to your tradition or your martial arts group.”
Chris Berry a professor of film and television studies at the University of London who specializes in Chinese film, explained: “The old ethic is towards production. All energy was to be spent with building the country up and not wasted on having sex. Now the idea is that you’re a consumer. You have only so much time on this planet and you’d better enjoy every minute of it.”
China is a jiggling mass of change that includes a sexual revolution. A Chinese government survey cited recently by The Toronto Globe and Mail reported that only about 30 percent of Chinese men and women are virgins when they marry, down from 84 percent in the late 1980s; marital infidelity is on the rise; Beijing has about 2,000 sex shops, which the newspaper said was four times the number of McDonald’s in the whole country. And “Sex and the City” is a Chinese runaway best seller on DVD.
“It’s connected to young people in the city having enough money to live alone,” Berry said. “It’s connected to the lack of any kind of religious prohibition around sex. If you go back before the 20th century, there wasn’t sexual conservatism in China. It’s to do with the West, and with missionaries.” Now it’s the West, with its consumerism and the ever-widening influence of Hollywood, that is helping make sex a fit subject for the arts. “Daggers” earned $20 million domestically, making it the second highest grossing film ever in China. (“Hero,” at $29 million, was No. 1.)
“The film attracted a groundbreaking Chinese audience,” said Guo-Juin Hong, a professor of Chinese literature and film at Duke University. In contrast, Hong pointed out, Zhang’s earlier films “Ju Dou” and “Raise the Red Lantern” were banned at the time they were made.
Zhang agrees that “Daggers” generates more heat than his past films. ” ‘Ju Dou,’ comes close, but ‘Daggers’ goes even farther,” he said. Thirty years ago you could not imagine seeing a film like this, especially not a martial arts film.”
“The character of Mei is modern and unconventional,” he said, adding, that the actress who plays her “is liberated, too.” Zhang, a 25-year-old superstar, travels the world and is seen on the covers of international magazines.
In “Ju Dou,” from 1990, the virginal bride of an abusive factory owner discovers that his nephew has been watching her undress, and hastens to block his peephole. Later, the two begin an affair, but its illegitimacy parries any feeling of liberation.
In “Daggers,” Jin spies on the bathing Mei (A virgin? Who knows?). Mei realizes he is there, and lets him know she knows. And she lets him continue watching, a lead-up to steamy smooching session that made at least one knowledgeable viewer say he wanted to “leave the theater to give them some privacy.”
That viewer was Grady Hendrix, a co-founder of Subway Cinema, a group in New York that fosters and exhibits Asian films. Something else surprised Hendrix.
“Things get downright fetishy when Mei’s captors take her to the dungeon and show her the torture device they’re going to use,” he said. He also mentioned the scene in which the two male costars are tied up in a “Japanese hemp-and-rope bondage kind of way,” adding with a laugh, “It should be called ‘House of the Flying Fetish.'” And to top it off, Mei is blind.
“China may be one of the only countries that can legitimately balance that line between characters who want to tear each other’s clothes off or to do nothing but talk and have it be very sexual,” Hendrix said, mentioning similarities with the 1950s in America.
Summing up this critical juncture in mainland Chinese onscreen mores, he said: “They can walk the line between passion and morality. It comes out of a real place in terms of culture and values. It feels Chinese.”
Review of its soundtrack in SoundtrackNet was written by Andrew Granade.
This past summer, after languishing on Miramax’s shelves for several years, Zhang Yimou’s martial arts epic Hero was finally released in the United States. Critics raved, audiences cheered, and the film did so well at the box office, that Zhang’s follow-up effort, House of Flying Daggers, was slated for quick release.
Since the two films share the same director, a similar sumptuous visual style, and a genre, as both are historical martial arts epics, there have inevitably been numerous comparisons between them. Tan Dun, who won an Oscar for his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon score, wrote the music for Hero. His score was lush, thematic, and drew equally from the Chinese and Western musical traditions. Shigeru Umebayashi, best known in America as the leader of Japan’s new-wave rock band EX, wisely chose to take a different approach, one that helps differentiate House of Flying Daggers from Hero in several subtle ways.
Umebayashi is Japanese, and it seems as though his heritage played a deciding factor in his music for the film. Umebayashi’s score is more like the work of his countryman Toru Takemitsu, who contributed such a powerfully effective and poetic score for Kurosawa’s Ran back in the 1980s, than anything Tan Dun has done for film. Although House of Flying Daggers uses many, many traditional Chinese instruments, from the erhu to the pipa to the dizi, Umebayashi places them in the soundscape, rather than allowing them to combine and overwhelm the scene. Let me explain what I mean by “placing.” Most cues use one or two instruments at most, and each note has a precise place in the cue, creating perfect balance among the sounds. In fact, there are many moments where Umebayashi even allows an instrument’s sound to slowly decay, hanging into pure silence as though at the edge of a precipice. Just listen to the sparseness of the bamboo flute in “The House of Flying Daggers.” There is a tension and an openness to the cue that lends it power. Using silence in this manner is an extremely effective technique in traditional composition and lends a lyrical stillness to the new film that Hero lacked. It is this subtle use of silence, something few Western or Chinese composers would think of trying, that makes House of Flying Daggers so compelling.
This is not to say that the score is better than Hero; as a stand alone experience I actually find it a little less compelling than the earlier score. The main reason for this feeling comes from the strange mix of Chinese cues and those that seem more inspired by ethno-pop music. There are several cues, such as “The Peony house,” that combine the Chinese elements with a synthesized beat and even sampled voices. The end result is a cue that seems out of place in the overall tone of the score and film, especially considering that such cues are usually quickly followed by ones like “Battle in the Forest,” which opens with the Zen rock garden approach of putting sounds into silence before returning to the marriage of synths and traditional instruments.
Still, House of Flying Daggers is a remarkably beautiful and poetic score, one which, in many ways, is the antithesis of what most lovers of film scores have in their collections. For that reason alone, I’m afraid that it is likely to be overlooked. But if you are willing to stretch outside your normal comfort zone, you’ll find a compelling score that uses traditional scoring techniques such as recurring motives and atmospheric textures in untraditional ways to create one of the year’s more memorable scores.