In the past two weeks I’ve seen one excellent film, one fairly good film, and one godawful film, and as usual, it’s the godawful film which inspires a blog entry.
Once you accept that House Of Flying Daggers is ridiculous, badly scripted, and incredibly self-indulgent, it’s actually a lot of fun. Perhaps if I’d taken this approach to Crouching Tiger (equally godawful) I’d have gotten more enjoyment from it.
Takeshi Kaneshiro’s character is basically Legolas, except for the black hair and lack of pointy ears. Zhang Zhiyi is Zhang Zhiyi, ’nuff said. Andy Lau is annoying and ugly, but that predates the movie.
Of course, the cinematography’s pretty enough. Lots of panoramic sweeps of landscape to the soundtrack of a gently weeping erhu. People flying, daggers which dodge and swoop like smart missiles, bamboo groves getting hacked to bits – all the usual wuxia suspects. What’s not to like?
Everyone kept bursting into laughter at bits of the movie which were meant to be dramatic, which was a nice change from when I was the only one cringing at Crouching Tiger in the Curzon Soho. An especially hilarious snippet of dialogue was at the climactic showdown between the two male protagonists:
Leo (Andy Lau): It is not I that have killed her! YOU have killed her!
Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), looking incredulously at Zhang Zhiyi lying in the snow with the dagger in her chest which was thrown by Leo: Me??!!
Leo: YES! Because she has betrayed me for you, you have FORCED me to kill her! You must die! (Gimlet glare)
Jin: No. Because YOU have killed her, YOU must die! (Gimlet glare)
Both men, simultaneously, while rushing towards each other with swords brandished: AAAAAAAAAAAAARHHHHHH!!!
In contrast, The Return had no screen idols, no famous director (it was Andrei Zvyagintsev’s first film, to which I can only say HOLY SHIT he’s masterful), and no big budget, but it was one of the most exquisite movie experiences I’ve had lately.
In the same way that every scene in The Girl With The Pearl Earring was like a painting, every scene in this movie was like a photograph. I lost count of the number of scenes I wished I could have stills for, the number of times soundtrack and scene combined to stunning effect.
The actors (adult and children alike) took a screenplay that had already breathed depth and subtlety into their characters, and gave it wings. Not understanding Russian, I obviously couldn’t spot dumb dialogue here the way I could for House Of Flying Daggers, but I have a hunch there were no similar transgressions.
No one could call it a fast-moving film, but I was putty in its hands. As the movie progressed, I was alternately intrigued, tense, and ultimately very sad, but I was always riveted. I know next to nothing about Russian cinema, but I’m keeping my eye on this director from now on, and I’ll go to considerable lengths to watch anything he makes in future. You should too.
[I’ve talked about the “godawful” film and the “excellent” film, but I won’t bother with the “fairly good” film because that was Fahrenheit 9/11 and I’m feeling too lazy to bother with the rigour that its subject-matter would deserve in a review.]