Weekend Viewing Roundup: House of Flying Daggers, Legend of the Guardians

It’s kind of an uneventful weekend for me… it’s just another super cold January day. And when I say cold, I mean face-numbing, ears-hurtin’, still-freezing-my-@$$-off-despite-wearing-two-thick-layer-under-my-pants type of subzero temp. It’s kinda depressing when someone said on the way home from work that “hey, it’s actually 20 degrees ‘warmer’ than this morning” and it’s barely 3 degrees above zero! As if the freezing temp wasn’t enough to dampen one’s weekend, for Vikings fans it’s really quite a blow to see the Green Bay Packers make it to the Superbowl when we didn’t even make it to the Playoff! 😦

So yeah, it’s another hibernation weekend for me. We were thinking of seeing that Natalie Portman movie, no, no No Strings Attached, sheesh, I was talking about Black Swan. The subject matter of that rom-com just doesn’t appeal to me whatsoever, but clearly I’m in the minority as it was the box office winner, toppling last week’s Green Hornet. In any case, we didn’t make it to the theater but we had been waiting to see House of Flying Daggers, the Zhang Zimou-directed critically-acclaimed romance drama that my friends recommended me a while ago.

Set during 829 AD China as the Tang Dynasty is in decline and political unrest is on the rise, one of the most powerful rebel groups is the House of Flying Daggers. Two local military captains, Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are ordered to capture the new leader which brings them to a local brothel where they meet a beautiful and captivating blind dancer, Mei (Zhang Ziyi). What follows is a journey through forests and meadows, with Jin posing as a lone warrior vying to gain Mei’s trust as they set out on their journey to the House’s secret headquarter. The plot thickens the further they go, with love blossoming, danger mounting, and nothing is what it seems.

Though I grew up in Asia, I’m not too familiar with Kung Fu movies, nor am I drawn to them. But this film is visually inventive and just all out dazzling, from the exquisite ‘game of echoes’ dance scene to the spectacular fight scenes in the bamboo forest as well as the blizzard battle at the end are breathtaking and a must-see for anyone who appreciates gorgeous cinematography. Apparently the use of colors is Yimou’s signature — kind of like John Woo is with his doves —  and scene after scene is drenched with dramatic colors that is nothing short of a visual feast.

Acting-wise, I think it’s decent, though I have nothing to compare it to as I’m not familiar with any of the actor’s work. Zhang Ziyi is believable enough as a blind person, and as a woman torn between two lovers. Kaneshiro and Lau also deliver strong performances and I see now what the fuss is about Kaneshiro, who’s massively popular in Asia. He’s got quite a screen presence and that valiant quality perfect for a heroic leading man role (he’s like the Asian version of Legolas in this movie with his archery skill). The main issue for me though is the overly convoluted plot and as the film reaches its climax, one revelation after another just keeps piling on top of each other that not only it’s hard to keep track, but also throws me out on a loop. Overall though, it’s more of a style-over-substance kind of film but still far more unique than most of the formulaic fares Hollywood’s got to offer. Highly recommend this one.

Three and a half stars out of Five
4 out of 5 reels

The other movie I saw over the weekend is Zack Snyder’s Legend of the Guardians. I was mostly interested to see how the heck does a director known for violent, R-rated action movies handles an animated feature. Snyder’s style isn’t for everyone, but I happen to be a fan of his work which usually have an epic feel to them. This one is no exception. Well, I guess this is like 300 with owls, even the warrior owls have the same helmet as Leonidas… which makes it um, Le-owl-nidas? Sorry, I can’t help myself.

It starts off innocently enough with story of the legendary owls of Ga’Hoole, which are admired greatly by a young owl named Soren. But then he and his brother get kidnapped and brought to an orphanage of sort called St. Aggie to be brainwashed as soldiers. Soren manages to escape and somehow ends up finding out that the legend of the guardians aren’t a myth after all. The noble owls must fight the wicked rulers of St. Aggie and free the young owls.

This film is rated PG and rightly so, it’s dark tone and intense battle scenes would perhaps scare little children. But my husband and I were pleasantly surprised by it and enjoyed it all the way through. The visuals obviously is the main strength, in fact, as I watched it I wish I had seen it in 3D glory. The flying sequences are especially gorgeous to watch and of course, Snyder’s slo-mo signature are ever present in the various battle scenes. The pace is fast moving and once the action starts, it never lets go, which is what you’d expect from Snyder. The narrative doesn’t quite live up to the amazing visuals, so it’s not as memorable or affecting as How to Train Your Dragon. As Andrew @ theFILMblog said in his excellent review, the drama between Soren and his parents could’ve been developed a lot more. But still, it was engaging enough not to derail the entire movie

The all-star cast boast many British & Aussie thespians such as Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish and Richard Roxburgh. Overall, this is a classic story of good versus evil fantasy done in an imaginative & stylish manner.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels

So folks, what movie(s) did you get to see this weekend? Or if you’ve seen either one of these, feel free to add your thoughts.

35 thoughts on “Weekend Viewing Roundup: House of Flying Daggers, Legend of the Guardians

  1. Yeah, the cold has been ridiculous.

    …seriously, one doesn’t even need to see the movie to know the plot of No Strings attached. It will turn out they had feelings all along, just like every “friends with benefits” movie.

    I saw House of Flying Daggers a while ago. I can’t remember it too strongly, but i don’t remember disliking it.

    I haven’t seen Legends of the Guardian yet, but i might think about checking it out now after your review

    Btw did you see my last blog entry? It was another post on the Vampire Academy movie, so i wasn’t sure if you saw it and just decided not to comment(which is fine) it is just you’ve been one of my more consistent commenters, so i was just wondering

    1. I know! Today is supposed to hit mid 20s, oh boy that’ll feel balmy! In which state do you live Julian? Sorry if I’ve asked you this before.

      I think ‘Guardians’ is worth checking out even just for the visuals, I guess I like Snyder’s work so I’m already predisposed to liking this one.

      I’ll check out your post later tonight, sorry I missed it this weekend.

  2. Ted S.

    I used to watch a lot of Kung Fu films back in my younger so when I saw Flying Daggers, it sort of brought me back to my early years as a kid. The plot was definitely too convoluted.

    I’m still not in the mood to watch animated films so I don’t think I’ll be checking out Snyder’s animated film anytime soon. I’m still haven’t watch my Toy Story 3 BD yet.

    1. Yeah, my brothers were into Kung Fu movies and books. He was a huge fan of Sin Tiaw Hiap Lu. The funny thing is, my late mother liked Western movies and she exposed me to some classic movies like My Fair Lady, etc early on, so I guess my taste was highly influenced by her.

      Yeah I know you’re not into animated stuff, so you probably won’t enjoy Guardians as much as I did. But you really should watch TS3, you’d forget it’s a cartoon!

    1. Well you’re way ahead of everyone else Dezzy 😀 Kaneshiro is quite a looker, I can see why he’s such a heartthrob. I might check out his other films, I heard Chungking Express is excellent. Any recommendation Dez?

      1. ah, you should ask my dear friend Jaccsy from BUZZES CAFE, he’s my expert and private spy for Asian movies 🙂 lives in works in HOLLYWOOD SPY’S Singapore office 🙂

  3. im not much into martial arts movies but HOFD is just so beautiful in places.
    this weekend i watched Point Break (still the best film ever made), Wall Street 2 (not bad, or as bad as it could have been) and The Town (very good, but strangely unaffecting)

    1. Yeah, I’m glad I finally saw it. I definitely need to see more of Zhang Yimou films, I heard HERO is a visual spectacle as well.

      Ah, I haven’t seen Point Break for ages. I think I saw that in the theater actually, man it’s crazy that Keanu hasn’t aged much! Still need to watch Wall Street 2 (somehow I know it won’t live up to the original) and agree w/ you about The Town, even with all the good things going for it, I didn’t leave the theater going ‘WOW’ like I did with Gone Baby Gone.

  4. Ah, you finally seen The Dagger (too lazy to write the whole title). I’m glad you like it. It wasn’t my top favorite Chinese movie but I like it quite a lot.
    I’ll try finding the guardian as it has many actors that I like.

    It’s not a weekend in Indonesia but still sunday in US, I watched Okuribito and freakin LOVE it…no wonder it won an Oscar. The kind of movie that I like so much and mental force me to write the review the moment I finish watching it.

    1. Ahah, yeah it’s a long name isn’t it? I guess I haven’t seen too many Chinese movies but since I’m really anticipating Yimou’s next movie, I thought I’d familiarize myself w/ his other work. I have HERO next on Netflix, have you seen that one?

      I’m not sure what Okuribito is about, I guess I should check it out on your blog. That’s great that you enjoy it so much you couldn’t wait to review it. I really should be more disciplined and write reviews sooner after I watch something.

      1. I haven’t seen hero yet, it has been played in TV several times but I always missed it 😦

        Hehe I only write a review moments after I watched it when I really really love the movie. Your comment in my review kinda make me a bit curious Ruth

  5. Speaking of the cold. It’s been like that here in the UK but fortunately, thanks to temperatures of -10 around Christmas time, temperatures hovering around 3 and 4 degrees C actually feel quite mild. I finally don’t have to put the central heating on full blast.

    I managed to finally get around to seeing Toy Story 3 this weekend which I really enjoyed.

    1. Rest assured, Ruth and I are taking on much colder temperatures! -10 Celsius is the high we have been getting on most days for the past couple weeks and we recently had a -26 degrees Celsius just this past Saturday. I hate winter!!!

      1. Well Castor, look on the bright side man, even mid 20s feels sooo good after being in subzero weather for days. I actually walked to my car (about 8-min walk) instead of taking the shuttle and it felt relatively balmy 😀

    2. Ha..ha.. yes Dan, 3-4 degrees Celcius IS very mild, that’s almost 40 degrees F which in MN is like a heatwave! 😀

      Glad you finally got to see TS3, it’s such a wonderful movie that I hope will get some Oscar noms tomorrow.

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  7. Funk

    The other Yimou Zhang movies you should feast your eyes on are “Hero” and ” The Curse of the Golden Flower”, both movies are visually stunning, and can’t wait to get them on Blu-Ray.
    Did see two movies this past weekend.
    Leone “Once Upon A Time in American” and Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor”.
    Both are nice long movies to watch on a slow weekend.
    On the Cold Front, it’s been pretty cold in in Seoul, Korea, since Christmas. Early morning mercury has mostly been in the single digits Fahrenheit.

    1. Hi Funk, yep I’ve got Hero in my Netflix queue already. Might check out ‘Golden Flower’ after that.

      Man I gotta watch that Sergio Leone classic one of these days, my friend was just talking about it before I left work on Friday. Last Emperor is beautiful but heartbreaking, I actually saw that with my grandmother when I was in Jr High, amazing film.

      Didn’t know you’re in Seoul. What’s the average temp over there in January? I didn’t realize it ever got THAT cold like here in MN.

      1. Funk

        Ya believe it or not Seoul and north of Seoul does get pretty cold at times, December was the coldest it’s been in 30 years, but not Min. Cold..

        Got to agree with Paula on Valhalla Rising. Scenery is stunning along with the highly charged soundtrack, I actually watched it twice back to back to see WTF was that I just watched. Similar to Herzog’s “Aquirre the Wrath of God” in away. Mads Mikklelsen steals the show with his physical acting as One Eye, who never utters a word throughout the whole movie.
        This is the same Mads who plays Igor Stravinsky in “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky”, another time period movie that was a joy to watch.

  8. paula

    we watched Valhalla Rising, very interesting movie, very trippy. 4 out of 5 for the sheer gorgeousness of the visuals & for not being as violent as i thought it would be. I wish i’d been able to see it on the big screen, it must have been stunning on the one screen it got :/

    it’s by the same director as Bronson, which i’ve not gotten through yet, despite my devotion to Tom Hardy, because i can’t stand movies about prison.

    1. Hello Paula, glad to see you back again. Oh my friend Castor just reviewed that film, he said it was ethereally beautiful. It’s not as violent huh, hmmm maybe I’ll give it a shot then. I thought it’d be super brutal that’s why I had trepidations about watching it.

      I can’t stand movies about prison either, nor boxing, but I made an exception w/ The Fighter.

      1. I also saw that movie recently. While i think its a interesting, it didn’t hold my interest throughout the movie. It had great atmosphere, but towards the end of the movie i would tune out, and then something would get my attention again.

        1. paula

          it’s what i imagine being high is like. Maybe. if you like Terence Malick, you’ll love it 🙂

          rtm: Inglourious Basterds is waaaaay more violent, if that helps at all.

          Boxing isn’t one of my fave raves either, i’ve never seen Raging Bull or Rocky because of that.

          1. Thanks for the info, Paula. I do like Malick’s work so I definitely should give that Valhalla a shot. That’s helpful to know it’s not as violent as Inglourious Basterd, I had to leave the room a few times watching that to ease my tension!

            Btw, if you haven’t checked out The Fighter already, give it a shot. It’s not overly indulgent on the boxing part and not as violent as I thought. The performances are worth every penny!

  9. Le-owl-nidas! hahaha nice!! ha!

    Wow, it’s cold up there! It was 55 today down here with 65 being the high later in the week! You should move during the winter. LOL!

    Glad you enjoyed Legend of the Guardians! Snyder pulled a nice surprise. I just wonder if he is going to continue the series with the rest of the books.

    Glad to see some more movie reviews! I saw The King’s Speech the other nite! Review will be up tuesday!!

    1. He..he… I was waiting for someone to notice that, thanks T! I thought of that as I watched the movie and couldn’t help including it in my mini review.

      Wow, that’s practically Summer over there in NM, yeah I wish I could relocate during Winter! 😦

      Guardians seems set up to have a sequel in the end, I certainly wouldn’t mind renting it if he does continue it.

      Looking forward to your King’s Speech review, I adore that one. It’s a shoo-in for tomorrow’s Best Picture noms IMO.

  10. PrairieGirl

    Saw a clever little indie movie, $5 a Day (2008), with Christopher Walken and Allessandro Nivolo (coincidence, huh?!) I like it more thinking about its quirky plot afterwords more than I did while actually watching it. Also Sign of the Cross (1932) with Charles Laughton, Frederic March and Claudette Colbert. Very campy and cheesy at times (Laughton’s performance of Caesar was WAY over the top), but was thoughtful and moving at the same time.
    The winner I accidentally came across on TV was the best Camelot film I’ve ever seen – First Knight (1995) with Sean Connery, Richard Gere and Juila Ormand, all of them giving absorbing performances. Will need to see the first 15-20 minutes I missed sometime in the future for sure.

    1. Never heard of that one, Becky, but I’d have to check that out. Nivola is so under-appreciated it’s not even funny!

      Laughton is the one who inspired Rufus to do acting, right?

      Ha..ha.. you like First Knight huh? Sorry but I respectfully disagree. I thought Gere was miscast and he’s just wrong as Lancelot. I quite like Julia Ormond though. Plus, that kissing scene with Guinevere looks like he was gonna eat up her whole face, yikes! 😀 Sorry, that’s just the first thing that came to mind when I remember that movie.

      1. PrairieGirl

        Quite an ordinary movie, but Walken and Nivola as father and son are very good.

        Yep, Laughton is Rufus’ inspiration.

        Didn’t think you’d like First Knight, neither did a lot of people, based on it’s 5 star rating on IMDb. Well, I fell for for the characters and the story. Liked it without all the magic, effects and swords stuck in stones 😉

  11. It doesn’t get a lot of plays in my house but I really adore House of Flying Daggers. Funny thing though; when I saw it in theaters it was at the end of a long day of theater hopping. I almost walked out because I was tired but stuck it out and ended up loving it so much. Here’s my Off the Shelf from way back: http://www.goseetalk.com/?p=1403

    The Guardians is on my queue and should be here soon. I am really looking forward to it (anything Zack Snyder makes is gold in my eyes) but glad you say there there is at least some decent story to compliment the visuals (which seems to be the main draw).

    This weekend I saw Vertigo for the first time and thought it was really great. Didn’t floor me like Dial M for Murder but it was so well executed, plus had a twist and an ambiguous ending that made me want to watch it again. Hitchcock is a legend for a reason:P

      1. So true. I kept wondering if Jimmy Stewart knew all along and was just toying with her or did he really not know until the end? Like I said ambiguous and as is the case with most Hitchcock films he really makes your mind work doesn’t he?:)

    1. Sorry I’ve been slacking in responding to my comment. I’ll check out your review Marc, glad you enjoyed that. Well if you like Snyder I think you’ll love Guardians, it’s really a visual spectacle.

      I still have to check out Vertigo. I know my friends Becky and Vince have praised it but as you know, I’m so behind on classic movies!

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