House of Flying Daggers
Sino-Garbo Ziyi Zhang is at her most beautiful when her silky face is in icy repose, willful anger glinting behind black-coffee eyes. Trained as a ballet dancer, schooled as a martial artist, matured as an actress, and gifted as a stunning natural beauty, she’s easily the most multitalented and charismatic Asian screen presence since Bruce Lee broke the bamboo ceiling. House of Flying Daggers (excuse the unfortunate grind-house title) doesn’t exceed its genre, as did Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the film that made Zhang a Pacific Rim superstar, but it exemplifies what can be done within its limits. Eighth-century police deputy Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), searching for the new leader of the House of Flying Daggers, gambles that a blind “concubine” a little too skilled with knives (Zhang) will lead the way. Posing as her rescuer, he steals her from prison and follows her escape north, but his professional resolve crumbles as they bond over bloodshed. As promised, daggers fly, but so do swords, spears, arrows, bamboo sticks, and even dry beans and motes of earth, all zinging through the air in swooping parabolas, our eyes along for the ride. The melodrama loses steam toward the end, but the costumes and vistas remain luscious and the battles vicious. And then there’s Ziyi Zhang. To see her not only act with gut-wrenching authenticity but also exert herself for two hours, leaping and splitting and soaring with effortless grace, begs the question: What did Julia Roberts ever do that was so great?