House of Flying Daggers (UK - BD)
Marcus Doidge has his most erratic HD experience yet with this Blu-ray. Ouch!
859 AD. The House of Flying Daggers is a rebel group who have been a pain in the government’s ass. They steal from the rich and give to the poor and despite the fact that their leader has recently been killed, the Flying Daggers are becoming stronger in numbers and support.
Imprisoning blind dancer, Mei (Zhang Ziyi), who is believed to be daughter of the old leader, police captains Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro ) and Leo (Andy Lau) decide to stage a prison break out in order to track Mei back to the House of Flying Daggers and take down the group once and for all. Jin pretends to be a lone warrior called Wind, who breaks Mei out of her cell and they both flee to the woods. Gaining her trust, and joining her as they search for the Flying Daggers, Jin is followed from a distance by Leo and his officers as they travel ever closer to discovering the location of the House of the Flying Daggers.
Unfortunately I really don’t think I can say anymore without giving away too much of the plot, which is peppered with twists and turns that are more fun if you don’t know they’re coming. I say this to the four or five readers who may not have seen House of Flying Daggers as it’s one of those movies that must have been seen by pretty much everyone by this stage. On its cinematic release it was hyped up everywhere from glossy magazines to those ‘proper’ critics in the big papers, its multiple releases on DVD around the world gave fans ample choice as to what edition they could get their hands on and it’s been shown on the TV movie channels pretty constantly over the last couple of years. This movie really seemed to hit with everyone and I’ll admit that I too was clambering to get my hands on it at the time.
Hitting around the same time as Hero, another crossover hit, Daggers was probably my favourite out of the two, though neither really set my world alight like I thought they would. I much preferred the romantic angle that Daggers took and the last nasty brawl of a swordfight left me on a high. Watching it again on Blu-ray after a good few years of only seeing the money shots in adverts and clip shows I have to admit I was a little less bothered about it now than I was on first viewing. For all of its glorious visuals and amazing stunt work the film plods along at quite a slow pace and knowing all of the twists and turns that lay ahead really isn’t quite so effective on repeat viewings.
Now I’m not saying I don’t like the movie. I really do enjoy where the story goes in regards to Jin and Mei’s relationship and the closing scenes in the snow blanketed field is all satisfying pay off. The majority of the fight scenes are stunning and each one ups the wow factor with yet another cool way to throw a sword or dagger, and the wire work is balanced enough to remain believable, despite the craziness of it all.
For me House of Flying Daggers is one of those movies I enjoy watching while it’s on, but minutes after it’s finished, I have no inclination to watch it again anytime soon and that feeling obviously keeps going as I hadn’t seen the movie since the DVD release. I really love its sense of fantasy and the world that it’s set in and for the most part I like the characters but for all of its visual glory and fantastic moments I can’t bring myself to say that I have any real fondness for the movie beyond it being a great little bit of escapism.
Now here is where things really start getting questionable.
The House of Flying Daggers Blu-ray experience should have been something to behold, what with its gloriously colourful visuals and the sheer amount of landscape detail, right? Well wipe that dream from your mind because this is as close to disaster as Blu-ray has reached in my experience with the new format so far.
It all begins pretty well. There’s an ever so slight blurriness to the image in places and even a slight flicker, but all the way through Mei’s dance sequence colours look pretty amazing and the image generally holds up, despite being a little on the bright side. This carries on into the woods and even up to Mei taking a pond bath where the bright greens of the leaves around her pale naked body look striking and bold, but then something happens. The image really begins to get erratic. In the matter of a single scene, the video quality can jump from being beautiful to darn right messy and back again. There can be grain, image noise, blur, softness and just plain standard definition quality depending on the shot and this is at its most apparent in the Bamboo forest fight sequence.
Seriously, as soon as that light mist arrives and the screen is that wash of green you may as well be watching your plain ol’ DVD because nothing here even hints at being HD. It’s even more jarring because up until this point it seems that all the money shots or scenes that the movie is known for were the ones that upped the definition as show off moments. From here on in I noticed every little issue. Scenes were far too soft and gave everything a white wash feel. One moment a scene can be one colour shade and the next cut it can be darker or lighter. It began near impossible to work out how much of this was intentional and how much was just a balls up. It really is that erratic and frustrating.
To leave this section on a high note (if that’s even possible) it’s not all bad. House of Flying Daggers has long periods of being quite impressive. There are some moments where the colours and lighting look fantastic in HD and I noticed small details in the characters’ clothing and weapons that I had never noticed before. The multiple layers of snow in the closing scene look white and clear, which I felt they never did on DVD, despite being CGI. Some of the landscapes look beautiful (except the one that looks like it’s been painted with a sponge—but it has always looked like that). Some of the open fields really look alive in the sunlight and many of the static shots of people standing still in the dense forests really popped, but unfortunately this is all too little to warrant giving this a good score. The video quality here is just all over the place and distracts too often to be ignored.
Thankfully the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is impressive. It’s strong, it’s clear and there’s a lot going on. The ‘pings’ and ‘swooshes’ of the swords are striking and loud. The punches have the right amount of ‘oomph’ and the score is powerful and bold and uses all of the speakers independently to create a great enveloping atmosphere.
A real noticeable show off point is the beans on the drums. When Leo throws the whole bowl you can’t help but be wowed by the sheer amount going on with your sound system. It’s just great stuff.
I could be a complainer and say that sometimes the sound went from acceptable to too loud in a heartbeat, but I sort of enjoyed how that boosted the impact of the attacks and at this stage I’ve probably put the boot into this release a little too much already so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Well, as a surprise that neither the box art nor even the menus mention, in the special features menu is the commentary with director Zhang Yimou and Zhang Ziyi. It’s a pretty tough commentary to stay in tune with, but there are a lot of insightful thoughts and feelings on the film and it’s the same one that was on the DVD release.
Also from the previous DVD comes the making of (44:53), which is presented as badly here as it always was. In 4:3 with a terrible image, it covers much the same insight from the commentary and intercuts it with a lot of clips from the film (which incidentally, looks so bad it makes the HD presentation look like the finest transfer ever in comparison).
‘Lovers Music Video’ (04:08) is the movie’s main theme with the option of on screen lyrics and the ‘Visual Effects Featurette’ (04:23) shows the many layers that go into the movie’s many well handled CGI shots.
There are also five ‘Storyboard to Film Comparisons’, which are what you’d expect them to be and five ‘Filming Locations’ which show clips of key locations with a few details about them. Few meaning location, date filmed and what the scene is.
There’s a set of galleries, photography, costume, props, settings and behind the scenes all set to the movies score and the UK Trailer (01:48) as well as a batch of TV spots (01:46). So all in all, much the same as the previously released two disc DVD, but with a little bit less.
I don’t really know what to say about this Blu-ray release. The movie is a good one and has moments of looking the best its ever looked, but this is really going to come down to your tolerance for how little care and attention has gone into making this an HD presentation. In my mind there’s been close to none. No thought about the movie’s fan base or indeed the blossoming HD market.
This release is going to be a standard setter for all the wrong reasons. It will probably generate a lot of negative word of mouth for the worth of Blu-ray upgrades and disappointing a lot of movie watchers who would be right in thinking that this movie should look amazing in hi-def. It’s a shame because House of Flying Daggers is a movie that deserved so much more and a few select scenes really hint at the missed opportunity.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 6th October 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Mandarin, Dolby Digital 5.1 Mandarin
Extras: Commentary, Making of, Featurette, Trailers, Galeries, Storyboard Comparisons, Filming Locations
Easter Egg: No
Director: Yimou Zhang
Cast: Takeshi KaneshirO, Andy Lau, Ziyi Zhang
Genre: Action, Fantasy and Romance
Length: 119 minutes
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