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Bonus Points: DVD Reviews

Dazzling 'Flying Daggers'

By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 12, 2005;

"House of Flying Daggers" (PG-13; List price: $28.95
Release Date: April 19

Viewers may see the world as a far more drab and ordinary place after watching Zhang Yimou's "House of Flying Daggers," a martial arts love story that easily ranks as one of last year's most visually stunning films. Compared with the epic movie's vibrant splashes of color and exquisitely detailed sets and costumes, reality looks like a faded, beat-up black-and-white photograph.

House of Flying Daggers
House of Flying Daggers
Ziyi Zhang in "House of Flying Daggers," which looks practically as vibrant on DVD as it did in theaters. (Bai Xiao Yan - Sony Pictures Classics)

A film as beautiful as this one was meant to be seen on a big screen. But much to my pleasant surprise, it looks pretty impressive on DVD. "Daggers'" cinematic canvas -- from the lush greens of its bamboo grove to the ruby red of star Ziyi Zhang's lipstick -- remains sharp and eye-popping on television, all the more so if you have a large-screen, high-tech TV like a plasma or DLP model.

The rest of the DVD isn't nearly as enjoyable as the movie itself, though that's not for lack of trying. The single disc comes with several extras, including a 45-minute making-of documentary, a featurette about the visual effects, photo galleries, storyboard comparisons for several scenes and a commentary track by Yimou and Zhang.

While the special features serve up interesting tidbits here and there -- particularly during the doc and the commentary -- they are often weighed down by too much unenlightening discussion about how the characters are "completely devoted to love," as the narrator of the documentary says more than once. It's possible that some of the insipidness is due to poor translation, as both the documentary and the commentary are spoken in Chinese and translated to English via subtitles.

A motion picture that sets such a high bar technically -- it was nominated for an Oscar for best cinematography, but lost to "The Aviator" -- will naturally prompt viewers to ask how the filmmakers made it all happen. Although the DVD offers a few answers -- for example, we learn that the magnificent set for the Peony Pavilion took several months to build -- it will ultimately leave most wanting more. After watching the many magical moments in "House of Flying Daggers," it's only natural to wonder how Yimou and crew pulled all those rabbits out of their hats. Here, we only get hints of how those tricks were played.

Still, the DVD for "Daggers" is worth a look, if only to escape for a couple of hours into the film's rich, boldly tinted world, where men can leap across fields of the tallest bamboo and love is the only thing that matters.

If You Watch No Other Bonus Point, Watch: "The Making of 'House of Flying Daggers,'" which includes behind-the-scenes footage and a number of interesting revelations, including the fact that Zhang spent two months living with a blind woman to prepare for her role as the visually impaired Mei.

Bonus Point Worth Skipping: The behind-the-scenes photo gallery is an attractive but not particularly interesting three-minute slideshow that scans through numerous pictures from the film. You'd be better off spending those three minutes revisiting the movie's amazing "Echo Game" sequence.

If you have feedback about "Bonus Points" or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.

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