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REVIEW: House of Flying Daggers

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Released only three months apart, Zhang Yimou’s Hero and House of Flying Daggers are twin love letters to wuxia pian — the Chinese martial-arts flicks heavy on wirework, silk brocade clothing and nostril-flaring chivalry. (The most popular example in the West was Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.) Zhang’s chopsocky double-dip has yielded fascinating counterparts — Hero examines individual desire crushed by political ideals, Flying Daggers explores greater good sacrificed for wild love. While both films are visually stunning, only Flying Daggers rises above its candied surface to be anything more than empty, art-house titillation.

    Zhang usually has an impeccable sense of scale,
as an earlier film like To Live attests. There, the director
personalized the Cultural Revolution by playing out one family’s
suffering against the conflagration.
Sadly, Hero traded that intimacy for thunderous meditations
on statecraft and Crayola-mad cinematography — shock-and-awe
effects to distract from the hollowness of its characters. Flying
Daggers
, however, is a spiced-up return to form, a melodrama
that fuses Zhang’s anti-authoritarian sensibility with an old-school
hyper-romanticism and
a decidedly new sensuality.

    The leads contribute much to the hotness factor. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon firecracker Ziyi Zhang (Mei) and Chungking Express star Kaneshiro Takeshi (Jin) have retina-scorching beauty — watching them spar, banter and flirt generates more heat than laughable lines like “I’m a free spirit…the wind never thinks much” have a right to earn.

   The story is just as ludicrous as its dialogue. Two T’ang-era deputies (Kaneshiro and Andy Lau) suspect Mei, a blind dancer girl, of being the leader of the House of Flying Daggers guerilla resistance. They capture her, but she escapes with the help of Jin. Zhang then breaks out obligatory wuxia elements — the double- and triple-crosses, the anguished clash of personal feelings with larger obligations, the bizarre love triangle, the fight in a bamboo grove. But despite the hoary kung-fu conventions, the film is an insanely pleasurable homage to a different genre: the battle royale between a rake and an untamable wench, but with knockdown fighting instead of footsie and foreplay.

    Zhang stages much of his larger schemes like a battle between the sexes — the Flying Daggers seem to be exclusively female, but for one notable exception; the government troops are droves of men. Meanwhile, Jin and Mei enact gender war: he’s predatory and cocksure; she flashes a perfect shoulder and a bit of disarming vulnerability, then kicks him. Zhang is a rare bird — a flawless beauty who is unafraid of looking like a madwoman when a character calls for it —and her live-wire quality carries the film.

    Director Zhang is similarly unafraid to go over the top — a dance of silk sleeves against drums,
the whistling of flying bamboo, the sound of breathing ratcheted
up to agonizing near-coital levels, all in service of tortured,
crazy/beautiful love. In doing so, he forces his audience to wonder if his
film is unbearably cheesy or the most beautiful thing ever. This
time, his grandiose conflicts feel tied to the human realm. — Noy
Thrupkaew

REVIEW:
Blade 3: Trinity

So
Dracula’s tomb is in Iraq, and modern-day vampires are trying to
awaken him so he can help them take over the world. That’s the
premise of ths ill-conceived, pointless follow-up
to Blade 2.
Wesley Snipes, once a respectable actor, continues to sell out as the titular half human/half
vampire. This time he takes on the legendary Dracula, as well
as a slew of lesser undeads, in an . Full of in-your-face product placements and recycled action
sequences, the fil struggles to decide whether it’s a real movie or a PlayStation game.

    Joining the vampire-killing team are buffed-out pretty boy
Ryan Reynolds and 7th Heaven‘s Jessica Biel. Reynolds is given most
of the comedic dirty work, but his sophomoric one-liners are badly timed. Biel
has yet to convince us she can act. The only saving graces are RZA’s soundtrack
and Parker Posey as Dracula’s minion. Topped with a
bizarre pompadour, she knows enough not to take this crap seriously.
Stranded amid the hapless cast, she almost seems to be laughing with us. — Nic
Sheff

REVIEW: Beyond the Sea
Vanity, thy name is Kevin Spacey. The actor wrote, directed, produced and stars in Beyond the Sea,
an overblown and muddled hagiography of crooner Bobby Darin that
gives new meaning to the oft-overheard drama school phrase "I’m a triple threat!" Yes,
Kevin, you can sing and act and direct. But not all at the same time.
    Despite mostly solid performances
and fun production numbers, the movie is more testament to
Spacey’s
hubris than Darin’s legend. Consider this: In what is meant
to be a tribute film, Spacey insisted on re-recording all of
Bobby Darin’s hit songs and singing them himself. Even the notoriously
self-aggrandizing Jamie Foxx had the humility to lip-sync in the far superior Ray.

    The film covers the entirety of Bobby Darin’s life, from sickly child in the Bronx to pop idol (“Splish Splash”), crooner (“Mack The Knife”),
Vegas entertainer and Oscar-nominated actor. Logic would dictate that several
actors be employed to portray this convincingly, but Spacey plays Darin from
his teens until his death at age thirty-seven. Spacey is forty-six and you can
tell, even with the obviously prosthetic nose.

    Only the character of child Bobby is out of Spacey’s reach.
Unfortunately, child Bobby, played with musical-theater earnestness by William
Ullrich, serves merely as a device to help old Bobby “find himself.” This is
only one of many ineffective conceits. Others include the recurrence of a possibly
magical watch (time’s running out, get it?) and an incoherent framing device
wherein Darin is making an autobiographical film. It’s only
in the musical numbers, hearkening back to the filmed musicals
of the ’50s, that
the film is secure in its identity. — Andy Horwitz  
Date
DVD #11:
Infernal
Affairs
If you love crime flicks, you know it’s been a terrible year
for American filmmakers who like to play cops and robbers (or
cops and serial killers, for that matter). After the Sunset, Twisted, Suspect
Zero, The Big Bounce,
and for that matter, Starsky & Hutch — yep, they
all sucked. So it’s no surprise that Martin Scorsese is looking
elsewhere for inspiration; his next film remakes a modern-day classic
from Hong Kong.

    Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs is the first film in
a
smash trilogy built around the sexiest men in Asian cinema, Tony Leung (Hero, Happy
Together
) and Andy Lau (House of Flying Daggers). Scorsese has reportedly cast Leonardo DiCaprio
and Matt
Damon to reprise their roles stateside.

   Let’s hope he’s equally concerned with translating the rest of the film: It’s one of the most tightly plotted and expertly
executed cop dramas you’ll ever see, with a gimmick that must have left Hollywood
screenwriters in appreciative awe. Lau and Leung play men who have gone
deep undercover. Lau, working for Hong Kong gang the Triads, has infiltrated
the police. Leung, a police officer, has edged into the highest ranks of the
Triads. The two double-cross
everyone in their paths; then their own paths cross.

 &nbsp  But don’t just grab the first film. Impress your companion with Infernal Affairs II and III, which are easy enough to find on eBay. Start screening the trilogy around nine. You won’t be able to move until it all wraps up — around three in the morning — and by then, your date just might just break down and spend the night. — Logan Hill  



 
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