February 27th, 2008

House of Flying Daggers

Last night I watched House of Flying Daggers. The director, Yimou Zhang, also directed Hero. If I had not known, I would have suspected because of the intense color palette of the film. Hero was better because it had a more interesting plot and the technique of telling the same story three times from three perspectives with three dominant colors intrigued me, although I was annoyed at having to cry at the same guy’s death three times.

“But I came here to talk about the draft.” Which should be the motto of all people with a habit of digression like myself. Thank you, Arlo.

House of Flying Daggers is a movie about trees. Sure, there’s a gorgeous girl and a good looking couple of men and flying martial artists and all, but the real stars are the trees. The birch woods, the fall colors, the bamboo forest. Without them, the movie would have been a dry, dusty western, full of desperation. That lushness kept the violence from seeming extreme. The natural beauty and its changeable permanence to some extent shamed the petty and fleeting considerations of the various characters.

Unfortunately, this undermined the success of the film as a film. It’s pretty bad when your stars are upstaged by your setting. Fine, you love her and want to ravish her… wow, check out that bamboo and its intense green! She just told you to get lost… man, that forest is gorgeous: look at the yellow leaves on the trees, the red on the ground!

I’ve been thinking about poetic imagery, in part because my own bank of images has shifted somewhat. As we were driving in the rain the other night, I looked out over the water at Berkeley’s Aquatic Park and thought: a shiny parking lot. I used to make my comparisons the other direction, from constructed to natural. The film is making me think about temporary and permanent images, and about change.

So it was worth watching.