Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Tragedy and death in Ye Olde China

I went to see a new Mandarin film on Sunday. 'The House of Flying Daggers' is a martial arts film set in the Tang Dynasty. It's about two and a half characters (one is very poorly sketched) caught in conflict between the empire and an underground alliance from which the film takes its name. Like most of the Mandarin films that I have ever seen (about five) it left me feeling greatly relieved that I studied Hindi instead of Mandarin.

Hindi films are famed for their overly happy endings. When the hero dies (very, very rarely) it is not uncommon for him to be reincarnated so that he can be reunited with the heroine (or her reincarnation). In Mandarin films there seems to be a genre rule that all the main characters must die unfulfilled in very tragic circumstances.

THOFD treads a bizarre line between romance and violence 'Because you love him and not me I have to kill you' and the romance tends towards the extremely tacky 'I thought you were as hot as fire but you're as cold as ice'. If I'd seen 'Kill Bill' maybe I could say that it is KB meets soap opera set in a selection of differently coloured Chinese forests. The beatiful scenery and cool costumes certainly were the main redeeming features for me.

The other strange thing about the film was the severe 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' hangover. Apart from a repetition of Zhang Ziyi as the heroine (playing a similar role), there are a couple of scenes directly lifted from the previous film. Maybe it's a genre feature of historical martial arts films but a scene where ZZ bathed in the wilderness while the long haired hero made noise to prove he is too far away to see was deja-vu all over again.

All in all, it was well summed up by the stifled laughter in the violent climax sequence and the lady behind me who muttered 'crazy!' in Cantonese at regular two minute intervals.

No comments: