12 January 2005 | harry_tk_yung
Treading merrily along the path of Hollywoodization (pardon my expression) started in Ying Xiong, director Zhang Yimou turned out another equally meticulously crafted product, Shi Mian Mai Fu, which was showcased to the world in the 2004 Cannes 'out of competition' category.
Meticulously crafted, SMMF starts by giving the audience an exceptional feast of the ear, putting them in a blind person's POV (or maybe I should say POH, 'H' for hearing). The duel of drums scene is brilliant. As if that is not enough, we are treated to another feast of sounds, this time the thundering hoofs and clashing weapon in the pursuit and attack of the blind girl.
Even more meticulously crafted is the color display. A top-notch cinematographer (Yellow Earth (1984)) before a director, Zhang does not appear to be able to tolerate anything that falls short of atheistic perfection. Although not as blatantly as in Ying Xiong, he exhibits here a color display that is equally dazzling. The landscape in the first couple of scenes is in mellowed brown, yellow and pale green. Then come the lush green hills and the dreamy world of the bamboo forest. Towards the end, we have a white birth forest and, for no apparent reason, are given a frame of only two seconds of a fiery stretch of fall colors. In the finale, the ominous dark clouds eventually produce a winter wonderland, to receive profuse splashes of crimson blood.
Crafted sight and sound is great, but over-crafted script and story is where SMMF falls down. In the show that I attended, the audience burst out in a clearly audible expression of mirth where none was intended by the script. I do recognize that this was due in part to the fact that they know Andy Lau too well. But then, some of the things were thrust at the audience so abruptly that I think their reaction is forgivable.
In a nutshell, Flying Dagger is no Crouching Tiger as Zhang Yimou lacks the heart, soul and sensitivity of Ang Lee. I remember watching a TV interview of Zhang a couple of years ago, when he intimated something to the effect that making movie is a market-driven affair and if the (global) market wants it, he'll make it. Well, he is at least honest about the whole thing and he did make Ying Xiong. But I do miss director Zhang's earlier work: Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, Qiu Ju Goes to Court, Living, Not One Less, My Father and Mother.
One final point of no particular consequence. Shi Mian Mai Fu (literal translation 'Ambushed on Ten Sides') is the best known piece of music for the lute-like pipa. I notice that three or four bars from the piece are featured in the background music, at the point when the blind girl's true identity is revealed.
Thank goodness it didn't get the Golden Globe....would have been SUCH an embarrassment if it did.