Friday, January 22, 2010

House of Flying Daggers

...not a very likely choice for me, but since my housemate was just putting on the DVD as I was haaving my dinner, I went with it. Doris Lessing, one of my favourite writers, says that people who refuse to read science fiction because they (disdainful voice) 'don't like that genre' are prejudiced and are missing out. While I readily identified myself as belonging to that category, I still don't believe I'm missing out. Well, the same is true for wuxia films.
The film opened introducing us to the corrupt Tang Dynasty, on the cusp of being overthrown by the underground, guerilla-style 'Flying Daggers'. It is essentially a love story between Mai, a blind courtesan and two government officials who pursue her, and whose loyalties are called to question not once, but a few times throughout the film, so that by the end, we're confused to a laughable degree.
Where the film's strength lies is in its cinematography. The vivid colours present a kaleidescope of exoticism and beauty. This is manifested through the ornate delicacy, but also through the wild and raging nature, both elements of which constitute the beauty of Chinese lore. The fight scenes are played out beautifully, making for not only a visual spectacle but also a soundscape of artistry and mystique. So precise is each movement that it looks like a wonderfully choreographed dance (except, of course, for the flying splashes of blood, though these too move with a quality of grace and poise, that they seem to be part of the 'dance'). The fact that all this beauty denied to the allegedly blind heroine made it seem all the more special, a gift, something to be cherished. It also showed how downplayed out other senses tend to be: we see Mei use smell, touch, and hearing to glean part of the world's princely treasures, and how perfectly honed these senses are.
By the end, when it is revealed that Mei is not blind after all, and when several other revelations are made, with all sorts of twists, turns, subplots and pseudoplots, we don't know what or who to believe, and the love story becomes something of a farce. However, the final scene, where Mei lies in her lover's arms, snowflakes falling, and her other suitor is turning to leave, reminded me of that of Romeo and Juliet. Love won through, but at what cost: 'Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.'

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