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House of Flying Daggers (2004) – His Review September 19, 2006

Posted by Jinx in Action, Drama, Movies, Romance.

Almost a euphemism for Snakes on a Plane

Dir. Yimou Zhang
Starring Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau
Click for larger poster >>

OK, it’s time for pretty again. And gritty perhaps?

Yes, what us blissfully ignorant westerners will always refer to as Yimou Zhang’s second movie gets a little closer to “realism” than it’s predecessor. The stunts are still wild but plausible, the story is much more down to earth, and the actors actually act full out.

It proudly puts a lot of effort on cinematography and a few key action moments, but the story arc is fulfilling in and of itself which to me makes for a more complete experience. Where Hero had one foot in epic chinese traditions, both in storyline and in storytelling, Flying Daggers focuses on a simple story:

China, the Tang Dynasty era. A would-be political assassin is captured. A young officer of the law frees her, and pretends to woo her while trying to find her guild, the House of Flying Daggers’ secret headquarters. The rest of the story merely nudges you to switch whom you root for, as there are no real heros and villains, just people. Romantic, voyeuristic, judgmental, kind, unpredictable, flip-kicking people.

It’s nothing you will miss not seeing, but definitely something you will be glad you did.

This is His review, you can read Her review here.

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House of Flying Daggers (2004) – Her Review September 18, 2006

Posted by Eury in Action, Drama, Movies, Romance.
1 comment so far

for only 42.95, not only do you get this fabulous set of daggers...

Dir. Yimou Zhang
Starring Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau

In a previous review I wrote about how, now that I had seen Hero, that it was difficult for me not to compare any movies of the same genre with it. Well, this movie is not only of the same genre, it is by the same director: Yimou Zhang.

The story rotates around Mei, a blind girl… although in disguise in the palace as a dancer, she is actually a martial arts expert believed to be the daughter of the recently assassinated leader of the Robin Hood type of gang called the House of Flying Daggers.
Without giving out any spoilers, there is an exquisite dance near the beginning of the film called the Echo Game. It is simply breathtaking. Mei performs a dance with acrobatics worthy of the Cirque du Soleil. Combined with the ryhthm of drums and the dust flying off of them and the flow of her sleeves.. (you’ll understand once you see this, I assure you) the scene is a memorable one.

Not quite as spectacularly shot as Hero, this is still very much eye-candy for anyone who enjoys a visual festival of color and costume. Although the story supposedly is set within a few days, we do see a movement through the seasons, albeit sort of backwards. When they leave the palace, the trees are all in their autumn glory, red, gold and rust. We then enter a sea of very fine bright green.. just as in spring.. and are even witness to a wintery snowstorm.

There are some astounding action sequences in this movie. Again, I will compare it to Hero.. by saying it is not as fantastical.. or magical, but more real and frightening. There were moments where I literally held my hands over my eyes (as if that would really help, huh? ) because it was so intense. Although this movie has incredible action sequences (notably one amazing one in a bamboo forest), the story is a very simple one mainly of a woman and a man and an ex-lover doing what lovers have done through the ages.

Perhaps not a very complex storyline, but such a sight for sore eyes, shouldn’t be missed.

This is Her review, you can read His review here

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The Storm Riders (1998) – His Review August 25, 2006

Posted by Jinx in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Movies.
1 comment so far

Der Sturm Ritter ja aber bitte

Dir. Wai Keung Lau
Starring Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, Sonny Chiba, Kristy Yang, Qi Shu, Michel Tse

If you know nothing, or next to nothing about Hong Kong movies – that is to say movies made with traditional HK cinema sentiments – let me give you a few hints. If you want to skip it, scroll down to the review. Let’s call it..

A short list of rules for HK cinema.

The characters are often named after their main character trait, so you instantly know who they are. For example someone who is fat generally has no other traits, and is called Fatty or something similar. The sister of the main hero can be named Sister, just to clear things up. If a guy is brooding, then Cloud is a good name, since there’s a dark cloud permanently above him.

The story consists of minor events that are interlinked, and seldom referenced in the rest of the movie, with the exclusion of the beginning and the end – you are often given the setup for the end of the movie right at the start. An example would be: Hero-type-person is face to face with his foe, just about to do battle. He has a cool looking sword. Then there’s a flashback or similar, in which Hero goes on a complicated quest. Then we get to the end, forget all that happened in between and just continue from the prologue. What happened to all the stu-uff? Nevermind.

The effects can be very cheesy. Now, this is of course subjective to your taste, but HK cinema is over-the-top cheesy. While, in a hollywood movie you may sneer at a fake looking dinosaur texture, here you are so overwhelmed by the audacity of the FX-makers and fight choreographers that it just becomes genius. It’s OK to have a Poser-rendering as your main effects shot. It’s totally fine to throw apples at Newton, and have people falling diagonally.

And yes, yes you can steal entire plots from other movies. If you think the Hollywood remake jungle is thick, then Hong Kong is.. well, thicker. With foliage and vines and junk. It’s very hard to be original when the style demands otherwise. Think of it more in terms of homages, or clichés, and you won’t choke when you see the same thing happen in yet another movie.

That probably won’t explain the genre (yes, I’m calling the entire HK movie output one genre, bite me), but it may give you a solid starting point.

On to the review:

The Storm Riders is in some ways the end of an era. After this movie, big-budget HK cinema has become more and more polished (bigger budgets presumably). You get the regular storyline, the usual protagonists, and probably one of the best attempts at live-action anime ever, all with an apparent lack of constraints on the imagination. Suspending your disbelief is impossible, to become engrossed in this story you would have to be dead. The stunts and effects, and even the story, is just so freaky that you have to smile.

This is the movie that made Qi Shu (Chi Hsu / Qi Hsu / Shu Qi / Kei Shu / Qui Shu / Kei Su) a star, reached a new box office record, and it’s got a fire monkey in it. A Fire Monkey!

So yeah, you can go see it now.

This is His review, you can read Her review here

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The Storm Riders (1998) – Her Review August 24, 2006

Posted by Eury in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Movies.
1 comment so far

Let me give you a hand.. I mean arm!

Dir. Wai Keung Lau
Starring Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, Sonny Chiba, Kristy Yang, Qi Shu, Michel Tse
Click for larger poster>>

Conquer is the leader of a clan and wants to be the best in all the World of Martial Arts. A prophet, Mud Buddha tells him he cannot foretell his complete future but he does say that it depends on two young children, Wind (Ekin Cheng) and Cloud (Aaron Kwok). After murdering the children’s parents, he raises the boys as his own. The story continues 10 years later when the boys have grown up. Wind is quite calm and Cloud is very stormy and unpredictable.

I wish I had seen this movie before seeing Hero (Xing xiong) which totally blew me away with it’s storyline, music and imagery. I just couldn’t help but compare them to the detriment of “The Storm Riders”, (Fung wan: Hung ba tin ha) I ‘m not saying this was a bad movie, per se… just that it seems lacking to me when I had just recently seen the other and was so thoroughly impressed with it.

I also kept looking at the principal players and found that they made me think of living manga characters and there seemed to be so many different people involved, and often for short spurts of time that I often was left wondering if this was written after some book or legend and I was missing some of the information needed. The first part of the story was confusing to me, but mid-point I did feel the pieces did come together and I finally understood.. maybe it was the coffee break that helped 😉 .

Although it did come together, there were things that simply distracted me… a box called the Ice Vigor (I won’t say what it is) but to me it looked like it was out of paper maché and another place it seemed like the rocks were made out of chipped styrofoam. Stupid details that shouldn’t be important, like dresses that, at times, I found looked too modern for the story, or a costume that should look old and torn, but looked somehow like it was cut with scissors. I know this sounds insignificant but often the finesse and wonderfulness of a movie are in those little details that just make everything flow so wonderfully when they are perfect. Now, I ‘m not saying it was really bad … but if I’m distracted enough to see these things, then at that moment, I’m not engrossed in the story, now am I?

If you are a fan of martial arts action, there is plenty of it in this movie; if you like special effects, there are even more. It is very fantastical and the stuff of superheroes. Think bigger, faster, more grandiose … not pretty like in the movie Hero, (see my review here) but it still works and some of the effects are quite spectacular and very cool looking.

This is Her review, you can read His review here

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Hero (2002) July 29, 2006

Posted by Eury in Action, Adventure, Drama, Movies.
1 comment so far

Amazing Eye Candy

Dir. Yimou Zhang

Starring Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi ZHang etc.,

Hero is the story of a Chinese warrior named “Nameless” (Jet Li) who gets the privilege of meeting the King of Qin and is given gifts in return for assassinating the King’s 3 most treacherous enemies: Sky (Donnie Yen) Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). The King wants to know the entire story and Nameless obliges. With each proof of having killed the assailants, Nameless is given more gifts and is allowed to get closer (10 paces) from the King.

As Nameless relates his story, my jaw dropped to the floor and pretty much stayed there for the rest of the movie. I do not remember a movie in my life that was ever this beautiful. It didn’t matter if it were inside the dark palace with hundreds of votive candles that made pounding sounds rthymically as the wind caught the flames or during the most violent battle, it was all beautiful. I can honestly say there is not a frame in this movie that I didn’t find amazingly gorgeous.

The music in this movie was also unbelievable. No matter if it were the Chinese seven-stringed zither (thank you, Google!) played by an old blind man during an outside courtyard chess scene, the soulful one-stringed violins and cellos, the acapella soprano or the men’s choir voices or even the rustling of falling leaves… it was always perfect for the mood, and sounded incredible.

Not only did this movie astound me with it’s poetic beauty and sound, but the story is great too. We watched the sub-titled version of this movie and the dialogue is lean yet smart. The story is so visually well-told that you don’t need tons of dialogue. As the movie progresses, the plot begins to gather layers and becomes more and more interesting as do the characters of the movie. Where in the beginning they are seen as just very good warriors that can beat the crap out of anyone, as the movie progresses, you see their bravery, their love, their passion and their insight, soul and depth.

The artful way the story is told is quite extraordinary. As the story progress, the characters fighting individually, we see them wearing different colors. I was struck that you could clip out just one scene anywhere and know exactly which section of the movie it was from. I also knew there must be some symbolism to the colors used and did a bit of research (again, thank you, Google! ) and found that red was for fire and imagination, blue was perceived reality, white was for truth and green, for enlightenment and peace.

The only thing I can see that was wrong about this movie, was that I didn’t see it in a cinema, where it truly deserves to be seen and heard.

I cannot overstate how beautiful this movie is. Every single frame is drop-dead gorgeous.

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Keywords: Kung-Fu, Legends, Epic

Hero (2002) July 28, 2006

Posted by Jinx in Action, Adventure, Drama, Movies.
1 comment so far

Our hero, the Jet

Dir. Yimou Zhang

Starring Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi ZHang

Jet Li proved he’s a great actor in Danny the Dog, so I can support his choice to abandon martial arts movies. If he sticks to it, Hero will be one of the last to feature him in full action mode, and while the acting takes a back seat here, it certainly is a good overall performance. Action scenes can’t be done solo though, and the team behind him,and his co-stars bring a lot to the table. The fighting is shot and cut well, which is important. And while it leans towards the fantastic, everything works well within the movie.

The movie is told mostly in flashbacks, by the “hero” who has supposedly slain the most dangerous assassins threatening the King of Qin. What follows is just plain cinema at it’s grandest – big scenes, great colors, lights and cutting, and some fancy dancing around in trees. Is there more to the story than what is told? Chinese history is as much legend as fact, and that is mirrored in the storytelling here. The facts are blurry.

You would probably find more depth in every scene every time you rewatch this movie. Much is left to interpretation, and just as much transcends interpretation – it’s just there to look pretty. Without giving too much away, let me just say there’s a scene with a lake. Holy heck. This movie is just plain gorgeous.

If you can, I suggest you try to get hold of the chinese extended version which adds 8 minutes to the movie (107 minutes in total). I couldn’t tell you what’s different since I haven’t seen the regular version, but you’ll definitely want as much of Hero as you can get.

Keywords: Kung-Fu, Legends, Epic

Keywords July 26, 2006

Posted by Eury in .
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