style over substance again

The following quote from the top review of the film on this site explains quite precisely the problem I have with people who rave over films like this...

"I don't complain when the dead rise from their graves. I don't complain about the lack of reason behind the ideas that aliens would have less intelligence than humans or that the living dead would harbour grudges against the really living. I complain when it just looks simply uninspiring and frankly visually boring."

In his own words, he values visual style over plots that actually have any reason behind them. Call me an ignorant popcorn muncher if you like, but that sounds a lot like reading a novel and basing your entire criticism on what font was used.

This film, Hero and Crouching Tiger are all the same - examples of the kinds of films that were already old and boring in Hong Kong 40 years ago, but which suddenly get rave reviews when they throw money at the idea and make it look visually impressive.

I know films students like to bang on about how supremely important direction and cinematography are to the cinema experience (probably because they all want to be directors), but most uneducated heathens like me occasionally like some sort of narrative depth thrown in as well. Or are we missing the point of cinema?


nope i disagrre 'bout crouching tiger and hero...both were awsum with well woven stories....o'course they r 2 b classified as martial arts muvees as they were...ang lee did 'cos he wated 2 make a film of this kind....and it was beautiful....thrown in a love story which was far more dignified than biggest of hlywud romances.hero doese'nt need explanation for vot it was 'bout.

this muvee sucked bad.....and by bad i mean real BAD.....worse than indian movies....


There is a chance you have worst grammar than any other human being on this planet. Thank you for unintentionally supporting people who did enjoy this movie.


There is a chance you have worst grammar than any other human being on this planet.

Reread this sentence and then proceed to slap yourself in the face with a sardine.


This isn't a question any more of whether this film is good you are arguing that substance should always come over style and I disagree. Style is a VERY important thing for me, a lack in substance would be compensated with an abundance of style. Such films that would come under this would be things like "lost in translation", Pulp Fiction" and the Hero, daggers & flower "trilogy" and one of my fave films "Brazil".

Such films to me don't have any real substance or traditional "purpose" (especially tarintino films) but their style is the film.

Saying that, I'm not saying that substance over style is bad, IMHO I think older films GENERALLY have less style and more substance. Godfather, Glen garry Glen Ross, star wars and platoon. These films focus on other things than the overall "feel" of the film which is fine, but personally I like something to "poetic" and a good looking film to watch. You ask whether we are missing the point of cinema, but I think that the whole benifit of it is that we can have things like "night and fog" and "Shoah" to show brutal honesty, substance and documentary style presentation. On the other hand though, we have "schindlers list" and "life is beautiful", films that have a personal feeling and in most cases quite unique due to this. It doesn't always resonate with a person (there are plenty of films I don't like) but there are some that will to the point of a feeling 'beyond the cinema screen'.

All the "great" directors, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Lynch (could I be forgiven putting Fincher in there?) are great stylists. I dare say people could tell you it was their film before seeing the credits roll. Kubrick especially.

Style over substance is nothing bad and IMHO some of the best films ever end up being this way.

Or maybe I'm just talking out my a$$!

Any thoughts?


I don't really disagree with the overall point about style v. substance, but I strongly disagree with the citing of Brazil as an example.

Brazil is a highly stylized movie but it has tons of substance. Brazil was dealing with issues of a surveillance state, terrorism and bureaucratization of torture 20+ years ago. Not only was the movie brimming with substance it was positively prescient.


I accept both types of films. Some could focus on style, some on essence. And of course, movies are allowed to mix. :)

In the case of Hero, I agree that it focused too much on stylization. In House of Flying Daggers it was less drastic but still a deterrent in some cases.


So, you don't think visual style and symbolism are important in a visual medium? Maybe just read books from now on then.

There are times when style trumps substance and times with substance trumps style, but the best movies are made when the two fuse. I agree that HOFD is gets much higher marks for style than substance, but neither the story or characters are weak.


i hate this whole style vs substance argument. style and substance are utterly dependant on each other. it's a completely artificial distinction. look at van sant's remake of "psycho". same script, shot for shot exactly the same. yet hitchcock's is the masterpiece, and the remake crap. break out a piece of paper and draw a woman smiling wryly. have you just drawn the mona lisa? of course not. just as singing along to pavoratti doesn't make you pavoratti, no matter how perfect your italian.

style, to a great extent, determines substance. and why, in a visual medium like film, should style be given an inferior position? it seems to me most of these substance over style people are just trying to make excuses for having a poor style.

and why should a film "say" anything beyond the story it's telling? why should there be any deeper, symbolic meanings? does beethoven's fifth have any symbolic meaning? what is van gogh really "saying"?

beauty is beauty. period. the art is in the telling, and i thought "house of flying daggers" was great art, beautifully told.



I agree and disagree, i disagree in the conception that you would place this film in with Hero, and coruching tiger hidden dragon, especially Hero, i got bored of the fighting in the first quater of the film but loved it because of the story line,

I so agree though that this film HOFD, house of flying daggers was simply uninspiring and generic, love, people flying here and there, scenery, it had been done over and over and over, there was simply nothing new what so ever. Even to the end where everyone of importance pretty much dies. Then the film ends.


Some director, i forgot which one, once said something like: "In film, style Is the substance".

And I think there's a lot of truth in that.

The plot is completely secondary here.
This film was a stylistic feast, a sensual orgy and I loved it.


I liked Crouching tiger a lot, but Flying daggers was a bit poor imo. The characters and the story just weren't decent enough, I couldn't care.


The fight scenes are beautiful. But the story just got too cheesy towards the end. I think it is a good movie, just not a great one.


but that sounds a lot like reading a novel and basing your entire criticism on what font was used.

Wrong comparison. It's like reading a novel and basing your criticism not on what is written but how well/how beautifully it is written. The latter makes it literature.


sian47 (Sat Aug 9 2008 16:04:54)

<i>but that sounds a lot like reading a novel and basing your entire criticism on what font was used.</i>

"Wrong comparison. It's like reading a novel and basing your criticism not on what is written but how well/how beautifully it is written. The latter makes it literature."

Literature -- you imply "great" -- is not reducible to mere style -- "how well/how beautifully written"; if it has no substance, or the story is crap, it isn't literature as you would mean it.

Literature is a sum total of its parts, greater than that sum, and each part or element MUST have relevance and substance. And there must be an aesthetic balance among the elements. You make the mistake of asserting that thought and language, language and meaning, are separable, when in fact they are not. The mistake of asserting that there are only two elements, and that it's okay to ignore and violate aesthetic balance in favor of one or the other. The ideal is a balance between style and substance (better to sacrifice style than sacrifice substance), and whatever other elements are essential to the work. In that is aesthetic/artistic integrity -- integration of elements.


I agree with you that it should have style and substance, and ideally a balance between both, but I'm not so sure if I would prefer to see style sacrificed over substance.

I used to read a lot of mysteries and while they were diverting, the style was usually nothing special, and I didn't rate them highly. I regarded them as "empty calories", nice while you're having them, but not very fulfilling and soon forgotten.

I'm trying to think of a literary title I read that had style but zero substance, but I can't recall any at the moment (although I do remember a few I disliked intensely, even if they were beautifully written...).


Moreover, Russian formalists claimed, and many accepted that view, that the form is the same thing as the style. So the form of a book, for instance, dictates the content of it and vice versa. Style and substance would be similarly interlaced terms.
And I believe that by "how well/beautifully it is written" you didn't mean how the sentences were structured, but how the whole concept of the story was presented.

***70s - the time when even Stallone had to make a decent film***


ive never seen hero so on that note im not qualified to compare.

however, this and crouching tiger are while similar, they are also different.
if you were to judge movies just based on plot alone, there would be so many movies that would be nearly the same. why? because art imitates life, and well the most thought about topics in life include love and death among other things. this is a movie about love and death, conflict and what not - there are so many movies out there that also have similar plots.

what makes a movie stand out is both the plot and the cinematography. a completely *beep* plot but good cinematography equals a so-so film. a good plot but *beep* cinematography also equals a so-so film. when both are *beep* so is the film. when both are good, so is the film.

to me, i found the plot, while not the most original, to be very good. a lot of twists and so on. i also found the cinematography to be excellent. its shot beautifully, the depth of field in some of the shots are fantastic - the locations shot at are also beautiful. the way the movie captures motion is beautiful...

perhaps its because im an art student who is naturally drawn to beautiful things (note the art student, i dont do film nor plan on it) that i find this film to be so wonderful... perhaps i understand the cinematographic concepts a bit deeper than the average viewer due to my art background - the scene where it starts snowing towards the end, i would assume most viewers would see it as just snowing, and not looking for deeper meaning. i naturally feel the deeper meaning - winter is a symbol for death, the stormy skies before it snows is a symbol of turbulence, in this case relating to relationships, the colour white is a symbol of both beauty, purity, and death depending on the context (same with black)... and so on. i dont think the average viewer would see that, but im sure someone trained in the arts whether it be painting or photography or theatre or film or even graphic design would see that.