House Of Flying Daggers
Shi Mian Mai Fu (original title)
Date of release– 2004
Run time : 119 minutes
Takeshi Kaneshiro as Jin
Andy Lau as Leo
Ziyi Zhang as Xiao Mei (as Zhang Ziyi)
Dandan Song as Yee
Director Yimou Zhang
Writers Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang, Feng Li
Nominated for an Academy Award- Best Cinematography (Zhao Xiaoding)
At first look…
The title of the movie sounds like one large can of Whoop-Hash. Just the phrase “house of flying daggers” sounds like a Chinese translation for filling a “room full of uppercuts.” However, House of Flying Daggers is not a bar room brawl threat, but the name of a group of people who are waving their middle daggers at the government. The movie goes like this…
The year is 859 and things are not going so well between the government and a group of rebels known as the House of Flying Daggers. The government soldiers scored a recent victory by taking out the House of Flying Dagger’s leader and now they have ten days to take out the new leader.
The two top cops on the case, Captains Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) coordinate their tactics to uncover a supposed agent of the Daggers (Ziyi Zhang ) and establish an undercover scheme to have this blind girl lead them straight to the new House of Flying Daggers leader. Twists and turns abound as the three main characters unfold a weaving tale of deception, betrayal and most definitely- butt-kicking martial arts.
This movie is like cocaine for the eyes, in terms of its scenery and cinematography. It was even nominated for an Academy Award- Best Cinematography (Zhao Xiaoding), so I speaks the truth… or my version of it anyway. Despite the killer sounding name, it’s important to know that House of Flying Daggers is mostly a love story, so keep the tissues handy, but don’t lose hope for some good action. There’s plenty to be had and we should take a look at the people delivering the beat-downs.
Captain Jin, played with bad boy charm by Takeshi Kaneshiro, has all the undercover fun as he gets to play in the brothel to scope out the suspected House of Flying Daggers agent and then later as a planted escort after a phony jailbreak. As events unravel, Jin is forced to weigh his loyalties to his duty and to his heart.
The other officer on the case is Captain Leo, played with subtle determination by Andy Lau. As the superior officer, Leo calls the shots and hangs back as Jin travels with the blind girl. Leo is Jin’s only link to his duty as a soldier and as the story unfolds, Leo is haunted by how his loyalty keeps his hands tied from taking action.
Captains Jin and Leo operate like a buddy cop duo initially, and their differences are thrown out plainly for all to see. Captain Leo sits proper and straight, Jin lounges. Leo uses formal conversation and stays focused, Jin talks slang and can’t keep his eyes still.
International star Ziyi Zhang takes on the role of Mei, the blind girl from the brothel, and plays the character with a myriad of faces. With the heavy load of so many emotional masks, some appear more genuine than others, but what she does do flawlessly is dance, sing and kick hiney! The art of her body flying through the air, smacking a head or gracing a dance floor is nothing short of incredible and she alone gets 5 out of 5 roundhouses to the head.
The government soldiers, very green-clad fellows with identical… everything, move with such choreographed precision, that even in battle, these stone-faced militants look like synchronized swimmers floating in trees instead of the water.
Daggers do fly in this movie, but sadly, not in a house. The flight of said daggers (and arrows, bamboo shoots, wooden darts and even little beans) is captured with detailed brilliance and cinematic perfection. The daggers almost become the stars of the movie with how much attention they receive. Damn near every thrown object is shown in slow motion from the moment it leaves the finger tips until it obliterates its target.
Small gripe about the kicks and hits. I found the landed blows didn’t have the crunch I usually enjoy in an action movie. Most of the strikes in the film from fists and feet seemed to glance off or the receiver of the blow didn’t appear to react immediately to the hit.
This gave off a wimpy feel to punches, elbows and boot kicks to the dome. I realize nobody wants to get hurt for real, but movie-makers have long perfected the art of making a landed blow look painful. The hand-to-hand impacts during the fight sequences didn’t make me cringe in my seat, and yet, the daggers splitting a tree into a gazillion splinters made me run for cover.
The intrigue of the characters’ ever-spiraling rabbit hole of twists and turns is not without its own beauty, but they can be a little heavy to absorb. It starts to feel like every other line of dialogue is a new twist or revelation, and there was more than once toward the end that I wanted everyone to stop talking and to start hitting. Wishing violence is a terrible thing, but I can’t help it.
Maybe I’m too particular, but I felt the use of wires was fairly evident in the film. When a character rose high in the air, the force of pulling and lack of complete fluid movement just could not allow me to suspend my disbelief. I’m sure the performers are doing everything in their nimble bodies to make it look smooth and realistic, but it just wasn’t convincing me.
I only mention this because it bugs me that the producers dropped millions of dollars into this production and that was the best they could do make Peter Pan fly. If I had a million dollars (dear lord, please) and spent it on anything, especially a movie, I’d want it to convince a bum like me that my person in the film was actually hopping that high in the air.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Colors are drop dead gorgeous. I gotta go where they filmed this movie & sit there until I die.” quote=”The colors were blinding and drop dead gorgeous. I want to go wherever the hell they filmed this movie and sit there until I die. Stunning scenery, popping colors and landscape that made me want to slap my parents for not raising me there is pervasive throughout every scene of this picture.”]
The colors were blinding and drop dead gorgeous. I want to go wherever the hell they filmed this movie and sit there until I die. Stunning scenery, popping colors and landscape that made me want to slap my parents for not raising me there is pervasive throughout every scene of this picture.
House of Flying Daggers does not disappoint anyone looking for a compelling story with strong performances and a blend of engaging fight sequences as well as an intriguing plot that moves straight to the climatic conclusion. The tale is about the three main characters, but I admit I would have liked to have seen more of a resolution between the government and the rebels. (They had at least one more all-out brawl left in them, dang it.) Overall, a cinematic experience full of gorgeous scenery, beautiful colors and an inescapable story that you have to see through to the end makes House of Flying Daggers a great movie to watch!
The film is dedicated to Anita Mui who was originally cast to play the female lead. She died of cervical cancer before she could film any scenes. (okay, so the fact wasn’t all that fun…)