Sunday, November 21, 2004

Movie: House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Zhang Yimou’s second movie to be released this year, after the surprising success of HERO. Three characters collide in 9th century China: a blind “top showgirl” who is actually a spy for the resistance, the government agent pretending to be her savior, and the agent’s superior and friend, determined to protect his charge’s identity.

The story proves to be intimate and straightforward, not epic (as in HERO) or complexly-structured (CROUCHING TIGER), so at times Yimou’s lush visual style threatens to overwhelm the narrative. But the star troika of Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau keeps the film grounded. I didn’t swoon. But I thought about it.

It goes without saying that the movie is extraordinary to behold, with action sequences that are literally breathtaking. Like the “echo game,” combining dance and martial arts, and an ambush in an emerald forest of bamboo.

Book: The Scarecrow Video Movie Guide (2004)

The sneak peek at Zhang’s latest was part of the launch party for this book from Seattle’s legendary video store. It’s home to 80,000 titles and has been called “the best video store in the world” by no less an authority than Bernardo Bertolucci.

Ain’t It Cool News guru Harry Knowles wrote the intro to the book and signed copies after the screening. (In mine, he encouraged me to watch 5 Mickey Rooney films starting with QUICKSAND. Consider it done.)

The book contains reviews of 4,000 movies, almost all of them positive. They were written by the store’s entire staff, which makes the book somewhat uneven. But name another volume that takes the time to cover eight films by France’s master of erotic horror, Jean Rollin. For film buffs, it’s a must-have.