Sunday, September 25, 2005

Everything I Need To Know, I Leaned From Watching An Italian Bugger Three Women At Once

House of Flying Daggers
2004, China
Yimou Zhang

There’s a lesson to be learned from every film, whether it be Scarface’s message that pride goeth before a fall, or Sick Insertions’ moral that with a little lubricant and a lot of grimacing, anything can fit in anywhere. Foreign films, in particular, contain a great deal of information for the attentive viewer. Not only do they visit upon the audience the ultimate message of the film, they also provide a peek into the particular culture that created the work. En Folkenfiend, for example, taught me that Norway has a significant portion of the population who aren’t church burning sociopaths. Canadian cinema, on the other hand, is so boring I finally understand why the country’s the size of maybe two-thirds of the known world yet contains roughly the population of a particularly well attended Patriots game. House of Flying Daggers is no different. Not only was I deeply touched by its message of the addictive and destructive nature of love, I also learned that Chinese people can fly. Or at least they could. Maybe they still can, if their bloodline hasn’t yet been polluted by the Japanese, a people whose only super-powers, as far as I can tell, are the ability to dramatically wear sunglasses in American Yakuza films and bath their women in semen. It's important to learn new things, because the only information I have about China comes from American news feeds, which would have me believe that the whole country is some sort of terrifying Borg-like hive mind, bent on world domination and the ascendancy of their mighty leader, General Tao. Also, since they have no pornography industry to speak of, I am unable to glean any information from that valuable source.

Google Earth photo of Beijing.

Some would say that this bizarre lack of porn is due to their repressive communist government, whereas I posit it’s either because the Chinese reproduce asexually or, as this week’s episode of The E-Ring would have me believe, because they can’t tell the boys from the girls. I've come to this conclusion however, because I am ignorant, and everything I learned about the world comes from imported skin flicks. Left without this input source, I tend to make things up based on old sci-fi serials and racial stereotypes. If I can ever bring myself to leave my fortified compound for any reason other than DVD rentals and more ammunition, then perhaps I’ll learn a little more about the wide world that surrounds me. But until then, I do my travel vicariously through Rocco Siffredi, and I’d like to share with you a few lessons about this global village we call Earth, that I’ve learned along the way:

1. Czech women will do anything for money. This does not mean that I want to see it.
2. The Japanese are very flexible.
3. Never go to Germany for any reason whatsoever.
4. Brazil is all about the butt. Also AIDS.
5. A Cockney accent is not as attractive as one would imagine it to be.

The Lonely Planet Guide to Spain

Those valuable lessons aside, I’m glad I learned a little bit about the Chinese from this movie. Plus, House of Flying Daggers is actually not an entirely unpleasant viewing experience, to tell the truth. I had feared the worst prior to watching the film, expecting just another convoluted storyline about either demon lords or evil foreigners that fills up the dead space between action set-pieces. The main problem with many Asian action films is that few directors, or fans, for that matter, realize that cool fight scenes do not a movie make. It’s what you do between them that counts, and if what you have between them is either bad dubbing or Chow Yun Fat in a dress, then you’re not going to win over intelligent Western audiences. But here’s where House of Flying Daggers is different. Sure, it has a story that twists and turns like a noose around a bad screenwriter’s neck, choking out cliché after cliché until all that's left is stock heist film surprises pasted over the decaying corpse of a Jet Li movie. But, as the plot grows more complicated, the basic story of the film becomes more simple, until you realize that what at first appears to be a sweeping historical epic full of massive battles and a Star Wars-like conflict between rebel and Empire, is in fact just a simple and tragic love triangle. In essence, the film moves from the macroscopic to the microscopic, like a zoom in a Tarkovsky film. And, like Tarkovsky, it takes two goddamn hours to get to the point. The action scenes help the time pass somewhat pleasantly, though while many will find the astonishingly photographed action scenes and stunning cinematography the highlight of the film, I find it a distraction, as it seems every scene is a Seasame Street skit brought to us a primary colour. But unlike director Yimou Zhang’s previous film, Hero, which was essentially just Rashomon for people who like shiny things, I found this film's plot engaging, and the story much more informative about the magic powers of the Chinese. A few more Chinese films, and I just might be able to get a handle on the country. At least until Rocco goes to Shanghai.


Blogger Fatman said...

My problem with this film was that it doesn't end. I'm talking 'House of Flying Daggers' here not 'Rocco does Ibiza'. Yes, the flicking of the peanuts (or whatever) on to the drum bit was cool, the jumping, the daggers, the standard bamboo forest battle scene were all fine but after the first eight hours of watching people kicking the shit out of each other I was stifling yawns. And to be honest I just wanted the lead characters to die and stay dead. They were like friggin'zombies. How do you lose forty litres of blood and not stay dead? Not that I watch kung fu flicks to learn about biology, physics, etc., etc.

1:27 a.m.  
Blogger Jerk Of All Trades 2.0 said...

This might be your best post yet. I say that every damn post don't I?

Phuc that then!

This post was WAY below the average. You're losing a little of yer fastball there Ashy. Rocco? Bukakke? Sesame Street?

C'mon man, you can do better than this. I wanna 3-2-1 Contact reference or maybe a Sofia Loren and Gary Busey Non-sequiter!

Was that better? I don't wanna boost your ego too much, this world doesn't need another me.

8:40 a.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

I hated this. Not just because I couldn't understand what was going on but because; the ending was unsatisfactory, the acting was terrible, the pacing was all over the place, the story was just awful in general. I did however like the photography. Oh and is this the one with the blind girl at the start doing the drums thing? Everyone always says it's brilliant. It wasn't. It was fucking shit.

See you!

1:26 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Fatman - Rocco also drags on a bit. I found myself fast forwarding to the climax. My greetings to Australia. Do you know Yahoo Serious? I believe he lives in downtown Australia. If you do, give him my best.

Jerk - Thanks, again. Am I too understand that you're not quite as miserably sick of my endless pornography references as I am? Because that's like a default setting I have when I can't think of anything to say about a movie. And yes, the last part of your post is better. I'm already insufferable enough in person, and my ego's already big enough that I'm beginning to refer to myself in the third person, like

Rin - I'm rapidly beginning to enjoy the fact that you hate movies almost as much as I do. I'll agree with you on all points except for the ending. I didn't find it unsatisfactory, it just didn't finish the story the movie started telling. It finished off the love story, but forgot about everything else. I wasn't unsatisfied, just bored. And it's certainly not brilliant, it's just better than Hero.

1:44 p.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

I loved the visuals in this film -- cinematography and art direction. However, the Chinese operatic style of these sort of period pieces is a little too melodramatic for me. I have yet to see Hero, but of the Zhang Yimou movies I've seen, so far I like Ju Dou (1991) most.

5:06 p.m.  
Blogger Talya said...

I agree with Sam in the visuals... I tought they were stunning. And I did liked the story. I guess I am just as melodramatic...

Maybe it has to do with the fact that I went to watch it alone at the movie theater and, at the moment, I was emotionally troubled.

Granted, it was about a tragic love triangle, and like Mr. K brilliantly describe it in a sentence lost into porn references, the only possibly way to say something like this without blushing, the "addictive and destructive nature of love".


Anyway, I guess the next time I´m troubled I´ll pick a bukkake one.


8:05 p.m.  
Blogger Fatman said...

Yahoo Serious ate my dingo. That Bastard. A few quick "fun facts" about Australia while I'm here;

a) Despite only covering about a 1/4 of the Southern Hempishere Australia ISN'T THAT SMALL and not every Aussie knows each other. Except in Tasmania where everyone is related and they engage in incest sex on a nightly basis.

b) The name 'Barry' has been slowly diminishing in popularity since 1962. Some states have banned the name altogether.

c) There are no such things as 'boomerangs'. We call them 'stick you throw that comes back unless it's a family picnic in which case it will hone in on your nephew and it will hit him in the forehead and make him cry and all your relatives call you a prick for the rest of the afternoon' or 'cry stick' for short.

d) 99.9% of the population do not run around the outback chasing around poisonous reptiles and grab them yelling; "Crikey!" at a camera crew who have secretly taken bets on which animal will be the one that kills you.

e) Koalas are our secret rulers.

10:20 p.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

Yahoo Serious is the man. Young Einstein changed my life.

12:34 a.m.  
Anonymous Je Suis said...

1) I don't like the name "Barry". Frankly, it gives me the creeps. But small Japanese children creep me out, too, and they're not called Barry. I'm still looking for a connection.
2) Why the thumbs-down for Hero? Cinematography, I thought, was slightly off compared to HOFD, but the plot was way better, by which I mean richer, greater, more meaningful, and any other term you can find in a Deepak Chopra novel. HOFD macroscape is all about the greater good; the microscape is all "Forget about them, what are you doing Friday night?" Hero was all for rejecting self-indulgence for the greater good, and thus reaching a personal level of "goodness" (my thesaurus has vanished) previously unknown to the do-gooder. It was about risking misperception, being taken for a coward, a failure, a tyrant, while labouring to build something beneficial and lasting. It's a little bit Chicken Soup For The Soul, but way beter than the mutual wankery of HOFD's characters.

12:37 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Yahoo Serious changed my life too. He made me the bitter, empty shell of a man whose self-indulgent ramblings you read here.

Fatman, on a scale of 1 to 'fuck you, Ash', exactly how sick are you of jokes based around how Australia was once a British penal colony? Because I have to physically restrain myself from making them on a regular basis, and I don't even know any Australians. If it makes you feel any better, my country is much lamer.

Talya - please stay away from the bukkake videos. It will seem like a fun rental when you're with your friends and you've each had a few glasses of wine, on tequila, or whatever it is you people drink in Mexico to avoid the diseased water, but it will only end in tragedy.

Je Suis - that's exactly why I didn't like Hero. Every movie I see is about rejecting self-indulgence for the greater good. The self-sacrifice trope is as overused as the cop one day away from retirement, and unless it's given a new twist to liven things up, I'm done with it. HOFD, however, moves from that epic noble struggle for the greater good to three people killing each other over tail. Not as noble, perhaps, but I found it much more interesting.

10:06 a.m.  

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