Combining a period drama, police procedural and raucous wu-xia action, this superbly made Chinese thriller grabs our attention from the outrageous opening scene and never lets up. Not only are the fight sequences exceptionally inventive, but the acting is first-rate, stirring up emotional resonance as well as lots of mysterious intrigue.
It's set in a sleepy village in Yunan province in 1917, where the mild-mannered Jin-xi (Yen) lives with his family. But when two ruthless killers attack his stationery shop, something about the way Jin-xi "accidentally" defeats them looks suspicious to big-city detective Xu (Kaneshiro). As he pieces together the events, he begins to suspect that Jin-xi is simply too skilled at battle. Could he even be the nation's most-wanted criminal: the missing commander of the notorious Demon gang? If this is true, Xu knows that Jin-xi will do almost anything to protect his family and maintain his tranquil new life.
Director Chan cleverly peels apart the opening assault as the Sam Spade-like Xu investigates it, using slow-motion and freeze-frames to reveal secrets in ways that are both fascinating and thrilling. This also cleverly lets us know right off the bat that there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye. And all of the actors fill their scenes with churning subtext, which not only adds spark to the interpersonal drama but also makes the action sequences that much more exciting.
Continue reading: Dragon [Wu Xia] Review
Chungking Express offers two parallel stories of love and loss brought together by a dine-and-dash eatery. In the first half of the film, a detective (Takeshi Kaneshiro) stops in at the local greasy food dive while pining over his lost love. And in the second half, a beat street cop (Tony Leung) stops in while also pining over his lost love. Although Kaneshiro's desperation and tragic romanticism sparks our interest in the first story of the film, it's the second story that really captures our attention. The power of that second story line comes from Faye Wong, who invades the screen (and Tony Leung's) apartment with childish charm and an obsession with the Mama's and Papa's "California Dreaming."
Continue reading: Chungking Express Review
As Chiba, Kaneshiro is an easygoing grim reaper who teleports through time in the company of a sardonic black dog (who communicates telepathically) to drop in on people's lives not to kill them but to spend a week evaluating whether they are ready for death. It's a question he answers by trying to determine whether they have "fulfilled their purpose." He has to tread carefully, though. A mere touch of his bare hand can send a person into a near-death experience. The movie takes him through three such evaluations spread more than 40 years apart, and yes, it turns out that the stories are somewhat connected.
Continue reading: Accuracy Of Death Review
Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is a great-looking freelance fixer whose long hair hangs just-so over one eye. He wanders Tokyo in a fabulous black leather trench coat borrowed from the Matrix costume truck and shoots those who need to be shot while searching for his life-long enemy, Mizoguchi (Goro Kisihitani), the extremely evil leader of the local branch of a Chinese triad. One night, just as Miyamoto is about to blow off Mizoguchi's head, he's interrupted when young, perky Milly (Ann Suzuki) literally drops from the sky, explaining that she's traveled back from the future in order to prevent a war with extraterrestrials that will bring about Armageddon. Hmmm.
Continue reading: Returner Review
That said, House of Flying Daggers is basically a love triangle set against the backdrop of an epic political struggle. As the Tang Dynasty wanes and the emperor drowns in incompetence and sloth, an underground movement known as the House of Flying Daggers takes action, Robin Hood style. As they rob from the rich and give to the poor, the police decide to infiltrate this underground through the capture of their sleeper agent, a blind dancer, Mei (Zhang Ziyi), hiding out at the classiest brothel in town. She is drawn out by police captains Leo (Andy Lau), a stern disciplinarian, and flirtatious pretty boy Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro).
Continue reading: The House Of Flying Daggers Review
How the same talented director (Zhang Yimou of "The Road Home" and "Raise the Red Lantern"), working with the same talented actress (lovely Zhang Ziyi of "The Road Home" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") could turn out one of the year's best movies and one its worst -- in the same genre no less -- is a complete mystery. But that's exactly what has happened with a pair of handsomely grandiose martial arts films set in ancient China.
Last summer's "Hero," starring Jet Li as an assassin locked in unblinking intellectual combat with the king he's come to kill, is an imaginatively allegorical, action-packed but understated, brilliant historical epic (in which Zhang Ziyi plays another assassin's apprentice). Pure in vision and bold in execution, it uses real events as a momentous backdrop for jaw-dropping scenes of graceful, physics-defying swordfights, each of which has an increasingly profound consequence on the future of the whole Chinese nation.
But "House of Flying Daggers" is the polar opposite: an outsized and endlessly pretentious romantic melodrama, also about assassins, in which the director has clearly lost any sense of moderation or self-discipline. Every overly polished moment of visual refinement is dragged out to the point of absurdity. Every hint of emotion becomes an excuse for floodgate histrionics. Each swordfight (or combat of any kind) slowly, slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y builds past an initial stage of breathtaking stylishness into a protracted mockery of itself. It's the snooty, art-house equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer action movie.
Continue reading: House Of Flying Daggers Review
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