Despite being well known in South East Asia, Shigeru Umebayashi is not a name that is commonly thought of along with film soundtracks. The House Of Flying Daggers
OST is his first foray into the international scene, with the film being shown in both Western cultures like America and England, and Eastern cultures like Shigeru's native country Japan.
Umebayashi faced a tough task in creating a soundtrack that not only featured many elements of ancient Chinese culture music, but also appealed to a more Western audience and possibly the pop culture audience. Few Asian films have managed to break open the door into Western culture, and even fewer film soundtracks. The only notable successes of late have been Hero
and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
. Both films received critical acclaim in the West; however neither of their soundtracks managed to make much of a murmur in the music scene.
House Of Flying Daggers
is essentially a romance film, despite its martial arts covering. Its themes of love and unity persevere throughout the film. Umebayashi's soundtrack easily encapsulates these themes that may have been neglected if given to another composer. It is not surprising to see Umebayashi capture the romance of the film in superb style, his previous works on film soundtracks such as 2046
and In the Mood for Love
have been hair-raisingly beautiful.
Umebayashi manages to add in a hidden elegance in other tracks throughout the album in songs such as Taking Her hand
and The Peonyhouse
that help add to the aura of mystique to the album. Although Umebayashi's subtle approach to the soundtrack may put some younger fans of the film, it helps appeal to the older audience that will appreciate the hidden themes and feelings of the music.
The soundtrack is balanced out with more action driven songs like Battle in the Forest
, The Echo Game
and No Way Out
that give a nice break from all the love songs and peaceful melodies. Instead of opting for more modern instruments, Umebayashi has opted to use a range of traditional Asian instruments like the Pipa, Erhu, Bamboo Flute and Dizi. Although these instruments feature throughout the film, they are used to excellent effect in No Way Out
which features a beautiful combination of modern-day string instruments and traditional Chinese flutes such as the Pipa and Dizi as while the percussion in the background helps give it a continuous oscillation.
It is his love songs however that stand out above the rest, although there are not many songs that are not
love songs in this soundtrack. Half the songs in the album are in fact love songs. However despite their strikingly large quantity, nearly every one of them differs greatly from the rest. The only songs that are annoylingly similar are Lovers
, Lovers (Flower Garden)
, Lovers (Mei And Jin)
and Lovers (Title Song)
. In essence they are all the same (beautiful) song, although upon close inspection they differ enough to qualify them as worth having on the soundtrack. Lovers
is basically the simple version, played with just a tradional Chinese flute and a Chinese Violin called an Erhu. Lovers (Flower Garden)
is a more lavish version of the simplified version, with a small Orchestra of string instruments accompanying the Erhu and Pipa. Lovers (Mei And Jin)
is another step up in the lavish scale, featuring the Arigat Orchestra. The final version of Lovers, the title song is a another version of the original song, this time with Kathleen Battle
who although adds another complex layer to the song, does not seem to do it justice, possibly due to the English lyrics which take away from the Asian influence.
Some of the other songs to take note of in the soundtrack are Mei And Leo
, Leo's Theme
and Farewell No. 1 & No. 2
. All of which are beautiful tracks that are elegant in styling and subtle in nature. Mei And Leo
provides another perfect example of Umebayashi at his best on this soundtrack, blending together two very different cultures into one song without resorting to Western styled music or letting the Western style overwhelm the subtle Asian tone.
It can be said that this blend of Asian and Western music cultures has been done before in soundtracks like House Of Flying Daggers
. This however should not take away from the job that Umebayashi has done in mixing the cultures. Umebayashi does not rely on the methods of his predecessors, but instead has produced a more exquisite work that is perhaps superior in some ways to House Of Flying Daggers
Although Shigeru Umebayashi does a very good job (especially for a relatively novice composer) at blending both Asian culture and Western culture without letting one dominate over the other. He has not provided an album that is appealing to a young pop-culture audience that rely on instant hooks and in your face messages. House Of Flying Daggers
subtle form does appeal however to a mature audience that can hear and appreciate the delicate, ethereal tones to the music.
Because of this, House Of Flying Daggers
is not for everyone. Those who like to delve into music and try to find the subtle, beautiful nature will greatly appreciate Umebayashi's work. Those who do not have the patience will find little to enjoy in this soundtrack, and should steer clear of it.
Rating for those who have watched the film:
4.5 / 5
Rating for those who have not watched the film:
4 / 5