My love affair with world cinema began nearly a decade ago when I watched French hit, Amelie (2001). Previously I had been reluctant to watch any film with subtitles, worried that it would hinder my enjoyment of the film. How wrong was I to be so naive? Since Amelie I have spent more time in the world cinema section at HMV than any other part of the shop and enjoyed a range of films from South America, Africa, Europe and East Asia. Discussing all my favourites would take many blogs but over the next ten days I will share what are currently, for me, the Top Ten World Cinema films. The standard of world cinema is very high with such gems as Ikiru (1952) and Let The Right One In (2008) missing out on the Top Ten. For those of you that haven’t tried world cinema I hope some of these films will be of interest. Those of you that are veterans in this field, I’m sure you won’t agree with all of my choices but I’ve no doubt you’ll appreciate a celebration of what is often an overlooked section in DVD shops.
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
Zhang Yimou’s second visit to this Top Ten is not quite enough to clinch top spot though it was close. Set in 859 AD under China’s crumbling Tang dynasty, rebel groups are formed throughout the country with one particular faction, The House of Flying Daggers, being the most prominent. Adopting a Robin Hood motto of helping the poor at the expense of the rich, the Flying Daggers become the government’s primary target and the film depicts a plot to bring their organisation down once and for all. Two police captains, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau) plan a mission to assassinate the leader of The House of Flying Daggers. They arrest a blind dancer, Mei (Zhang Ziyi), who works at a brothel and is believed to be the daughter of a previous leader of the rebel faction. As part of the plot, Jin breaks into the prison where Mei is held and leads her into the wilderness all the time having the authorities nearby, believing she will reveal where the Flying Daggers are hiding.
As with Hero, Yimou’s film is a beautiful feast for the eyes whether it’s the exquisite costumes of the many characters or the stunning scenery ranging from golden fields to bamboo forests. Combat plays a big part in the film as well with such scenes as a fight in a bamboo forest and the flight path of daggers and arrows through forests and long grass being notable spectacles. Bloodshed is more prominent than in Hero but it is never to the extent that I feel it would alienate an audience with an aversion to violence. The bloodiest exchange comes right at the end as a fierce love triangle that has built up throughout the film is concluded with swords and daggers! The love triangle itself is a high point for the film as the dutiful Jin, content to betray Mei and use her at the start of the film, suddenly finds his loyalties tested when he begins to fall for the blind dancer! A second character also loves Mei though and is unsurprisingly vengeful on learning she is desired by a police captain.
House of Flying Daggers boasts many wonderful set pieces, beginning with the echo game between Mei and Leo and continuing outside the city as Jin pretends to be fighting off the pursuing police. It’s hard to convey in words just how amazing the effects, settings, locations and characters are in the film. I enjoy a film that surprises me and House of Flying Daggers manages this on more than one occasion. When Jin and Mei do eventually reach The House of Flying Daggers, Jin does not know if he can see out his plan, leaving the audience wondering if he will defect to the rebels’ cause. While a dilemma faces Jin it’s important to remember that nothing is as it seems in this film and a rebel organisation that has evaded capture and outwitted the government is not so easily brought down even when faced with a clever plot from the local authorities.
Though a tender romance develops between Jin and Mei there is the third piece to a devastating love triangle waiting for his say on proceedings. The film’s early emphasis is on the plot to crush the Flying Daggers but by the end this has been changed completely. As the local authorities close in on the rebel stronghold we are left to speculate how it all ends, the answer is never provided. The love triangle becomes the focus for the film’s final scenes and it is at its very best here. Only bloodshed can settle the love triangle and Jin is left to fight against his rival in what begins as sweeping fields and stunning forests but snow begins to fall and the surroundings are quickly turned pure white. Blood becomes more transparent as it is shed and though the film ends with more questions than answers it feels entirely appropriate. Yimou’s finest hour in celluloid is also one of the most beautiful films you will ever see.
Top Ten so far:-
2) House of Flying Daggers
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