It was fitting that my daughter took Laurel and me to see this amazing movie in an amazing movie theatre, Hollywood’s Arclight Cinemas—which inspired me to think “I’m not in Salem anymore!” as soon as I walked into the cavernous lobby.
Of course, spending a few previous days in my promised tourist land of warm sun, exotic cars, organic vegetarian food, a great metaphysical book store, and last but definitely not least, a pleasing display of young fit nattily clad women with larger than normal breasts, had already offered me a few hints that I was cultural light years away from our Oregon home.
Arclight charged us $11 a ticket for a 4:00 pm showing, but it was worth it to (1) have the cinema concierge (“ticket seller” is way too tacky a term) open up a binder and show us the available theatre seats from which we could choose, (2) watch the movie in the most comfortable seats I’ve ever experienced, and (3) have our ears almost blown off by an astoundingly powerful sound system.
Thankfully, Laurel had earplugs in her purse and managed to put them in as soon as the previews started without embarrassing me. When I heard the initial rumblings of the sound system I started to experience some post-traumatic stress stemming from at least two previous movie experiences here in Salem (there could be more; my wounded psyche may be blocking them out).
Once, in a crowded theatre, Laurel watched much of the movie with a finger in each ear. Her fingers, not mine, but I still felt funny sitting next to her, wondering what people in back of us were thinking: “Are they stuck?” “Did she think this was going to be a silent film?” Laurel knows that exposure to even relatively mild loud noise can lead to hearing loss, and she’ll have the last laugh one day when I’m cupping a hand to my ear and asking “Huh, what’d you say?” (“You should have worn ear plugs like me” is what I’ll hear).
The other time, Laurel thought she had ear plugs in her purse, but couldn’t find them. So she ended up dumping the contents of the entire purse in her lap and rummaging through god knows what for what seemed a very long time. At least the sounds she was making weren’t the usual reach-for-popcorn or open-a-candy-bag irritations—more like mice skittering around in the walls, which probably intrigued the people sitting near us in the dark more than it bothered them.
Anyway, once “House of Flying Daggers” got rolling I started wishing that I had earplugs myself. The look and sound of this film are both exceptional. As Ebert observes in his review, the Echo Game scene in the Peony Pavilion brothel is something not easily forgotten. The blind dancer whirls around, hitting drums loudly with her weighted long sleeve, perfectly echoing the sequence of bouncing nuts thrown at the drums by a policeman who will arrest her if she doesn’t win her freedom by playing this game well.
Like the rest of “House of Flying Daggers,” this scene is an immensely pleasing blend of beauty, grace, power, great costuming, impressive set design, and colorful cinematography.
And, displays of other-worldly martial arts prowess. In the spirit of “Hero,” (the two movies have the same director, Zhang Yimou) “House of Flying Daggers” features archery, staff, sword, hand to hand, and knife (of course) fighting that goes beyond unbelievable. Which is as it should be. If you want realism, watch boxing on HBO.
This is a movie that should be enjoyed on a big screen, so don’t wait to see it until it comes out on DVD. Laurel would say, “Just remember to take your earplugs.”