Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

I wonder what it would be like to watch this movie with a circus knife-thrower. There's a person who has devoted years or possibly decades to training, just to be able to throw knives at an assistant a few feet away without actually striking them. I wonder whether the knife-thrower would be moved to fits of discomfort or laughter by "House of Flying Daggers," in which knives soar through the air pulling off all kinds of effects: They spontaneously stop spinning with their blade forward, they circle like boomerangs around the action, they slice through many tree-like stalks of bamboo when needed (other times getting impaled in a single stalk), they soar through the air like flocks of birds when thrown by offscreen assassins too far away to see their targets but strike a whole platoon of soldiers with deadly accuracy. In whatever fantasy China this is, knives spin through the air so often they may as well be considered weather.

I'm not criticizing the film, only commenting on its primary visual motif, which makes good on the title. This is a film of elegant visuals and elaborate choreography, and viewers who like this kind of movie (you know who you are) will be in for a treat. Odd that a Zhang Yimou film doesn't pack more of an emotional punch or thematic depth, but it's more interesting than "Hero" and arguably more accessible to the average Western moviegoer. If you aren't familiar with this new renaissance of balletic martial arts films, this is an excellent place to get started.

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