A Song A Day – March 24th – Beauty Song (from another life)

24 03 2011

So there I was, listening to a load of film soundtracks on spotify, when todays song came on. It’s from what is possibly my all time favourite film. I’m actually writing this from the past (the main bulk of todays post comes from a post on my old forgotten blog, but it’s apt today) but it gives a good insight into how I came to fall in love with this wonderfully engaging piece of cinema.

Those of you who have seen Zhang Yimou’s wuxia masterpice House of Flying Daggers will know what a full frontal cinematic attack it is. In a good way. Mind boggling visuals coupled with a great narrative puts this film as one of my all time favourites. I remember the first time that I watched this film. I’d watched two films before it, Naked Gun 33 1/3 and Vantage Point. House of Flying Daggers was rounding off an impromptu movie night. I’d actually picked the film up on an impulsive spur whilst in the local branch of HMV. I’m currently attempting to learn Mandarin and being able to combine a film with a learning experience seemed a good excuse to plough through a bag of popcorn with a pint of the fizzy stuff whilst relaxing in my easy chair! I wandered down to the martial arts section to see what was on offer. I figured the martial arts film might be in eastern languages, and if I could find one or two in Mandarin Chinese then I’m quids in.House of Flying Daggers OST Cover

It was always one of those ‘films-I-want-to-see-but-just-haven’t-done-so-yet’ so I saw it on the shelf, it ticked the boxes so I paid up and headed home. I came to put it on. Plugged in headphones, got comfy (popcorn and beer had already gone missing) so it was just me, the film and a darkened room. That’s not such a bad thing!

I had no idea just how breath-taking (and I use that term literally) the film would be. From the opening credits, I had a feeling it was going to be good… But, THIS good? Scoring 89 on Metacritic and ‘universal acclaim’ I can see why! I’d not seen anything like it.

Now, someone like me who has studied film for a fair few years now, will often watch a film a little bit differently from the average cinema-goer. One thing I always pick up on are the technical sides of it. It struck me that the soundstage in this film was quite remarkable. The sound was crisp, clear and was audibly detailed. Naturally, the soundtrack followed suit.

Shigeru Umebayashi’s soundtrack is really good. The tracks evoke a range of feelings such as urgency (The Echo Game) beauty (Beauty Song (Jia Ren Qi)) and even just straight up heart tugging (Lovers) – The final track (Until the End) is also an emotional piece, those of you who know the ending will no doubt be seeing that in your minds upon hearing this track. I don’t know about yourselves, but I didn’t see it coming or ending like that.

This is also a wonderfully evocative score and captures the heart and soul of the film as well as its ancient chinese location. Traditional chinese instruments such as the pipa and erhu are used to great effect throughout and there is a range of moods and tempos across the tracks. Just like any good soundtrack should have. If you’re not overly used to the chinese sound, it may take a few listens to get your head around. If you are one of those people, then I advise you to at least have a go. You will not be disappointed.

The specific piece I’m going to feature today comes from a scene rather early on in the film, where we first come across Zhang Ziyi. I also learnt how to read erhu notation, converted into the regular notes, plotted it on a guitar tab, and learnt it on the guitar. That was a fun evening! This song is called ‘The Beauty Song’ and is an arrangement of an old chinese poem. I’ve provided the english translation below the video.

Excuse the slighty blurry picture quality – youtube restrictions meant dailymotion was the source today. The bloke singing along is Andy Lau (a famous cantonese/chinese film star/singer — and in this film at this time, the guy is slightly tipsy, which explains his singing, the version without him was bound by embedding restrictions)

An extraordinary beauty in the North…

The most beautiful being of the world

From her first glance the city bows before her

From her second glance the empire falls into ruins

But there aren’t such an empire or a city

what we can laud more than this beauty

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