If we meet again… one of us will have to die.

house of flying daggers zhang yimou zhang ziyi

A rare beauty in the North. She’s the finest lady on earth. A glance from her, the whole city goes down. A second glance leaves the nation in ruins. There exists no city or nation that has been more cherished than a beauty like this.

Mei, House of Flying Daggers

House of Flying Daggers (2004)
Also known as
Shí Miàn Mái Fú
Action,   Romance,   Tragedy, Wuxia,   Wuxia Film
Written by
Li Feng, Peter Wu, Wang Bin, Zhang Yimou 
Directed by
Country of Origin
Running time
119 minutes

oh! … brief

The Tang Dynasty is in decline in AD 859 and citizens displeased with the corruption in government form rebel groups, the largest of which is the House of Flying Daggers. Its members steal from the rich and give to the poor, gaining the support of local residents.

Two police officers are tasked with rooting out and killing the leader of the House of Flying Daggers.

The two officers suspect a sympathiser to be hiding in the Peony Pavilion, a local entertainment house (brothel) and so, they devise a plan to entrap the woman.

Once arrested, one of the officers launches an assault on the jail setting the woman free. He then helps her make her escape and retreat to meet up with the leader of the House of Flying Daggers rebels.

Unfortunately, as they journey to the secret location of the rebel group, the officer and the rebel sympathiser become attracted to each other and begin to fall in love which foils the original plans and causes mayhem to ensue.

oh! … talks film

This film is one I watched when it was released in 2004 and it’s one I revisit time and again, not only because it’s a Zhang Yimou production, but because of its breathtaking beauty.

With Hollywood film productions growing progressively coarse and horrid, the attraction of the beautiful and grand wuxia films from Asian countries is increasingly appealing. This particular film blends adventure, intrigue, and astonishing glamour splendidly.

Cinematically speaking, the focus is on the aesthetic – ornately detailed interior scenes, richly vibrant colouring of everything the eye can see, outstanding costumes, sweeping landscapes, organic, otherworldly natural forests and bamboo groves are some of the stunning elements one’s eye can feast on.

Zhang Yimou’s productions are always exquisite to watch for his artistry and depiction. He is a master at choreography, whether it is a single frame, a scene. He has an uncanny ability to paint lavish stories and detail every aspect of character development. And this production is one of his finest creations.

The magical atmosphere he composed within the entertainment house was ethereal and always has given me a rush of emotions, powerfully heightened by the allure of what is to come.

Zhang Yimou understands how to choreograph and shoot action scenes, nothing is ever irregular or inconceivable, his camera always captures the whole composition. If he were an architect, his buildings would rank among the greatest I am certain.

To appreciate the majesty of his artistry, you have only to watch the Echo Game (played out inside the Peony Pavilion), the offensive in the forest battle (played out using horses and foot soldiers), and the nerve-wracking bamboo battle (played out in the high reaches of the grove and weaving its way through the strong bamboo boughs). Each one spectacular and unique!

Zhao Xiaoding, the cinematographer for this film did an amazing job of catching every wondrous movement from the swirling dance steps, alluring poses, high-flying leaps and bounds, to the alarming horses pounding their hooves through the autumn leaves one second and somersaulting the next, the hurling of sharpened bamboo shafts to cage the two and halt their escape. Much of the spectacle filmed in slow-motion so that the finesse was not lost on the audience.

Most films might offer up a handful of show-stopping scenes if they are lucky. In House of Flying Daggers, under Zhang Yimou’s direction, Zhang Xiaoding proffered at least twenty showstoppers. And in the background, mirroring the action on the screen is the painful yearning soundtrack that mimics the beauty and melancholy note-by-note.

But the soundtrack wasn’t the only music of the film. The quiet discord is alive with the natural sounds of the nuts hitting the drums, the thundering hoofbeats, the whooshing bamboo spears, the clicking of swords, or the slithering mid-air of daggers. The production was a harmonious rhythmic phenomenon!

I really appreciated that the writers of this screenplay painted the government as corrupt and the rebels as being honourable. I think this can be reflected in most countries in the modern world.

Just as in real life, you never can distinguish who is your friend and who is the enemy. There were much camouflage and pretence written into the screenplay, but it was modestly undertaken and the result was easy to follow and understand.

The writers crafted a love story of such simplicity, it is hard to imagine it to be anything but authentic. Yes, there is intrigue and mystery! Yes, the writers developed the characters beneath the multiple layers of betrayal, scrutiny and double-crossing reminiscent of Shakespeare or an operatic production from Italy.

The writing of the characters’ devotions and dishonesties was cautiously arranged to mirror the shards of bamboo, drops of blood and soaring daggers, I’m envious that I wasn’t part of the writing team. The writers outlined the leads as humanly plausible so not to be a distraction. It was tragic at the end when lives are wasted.

Captain Leo, the seemingly more senior police officer played by Andy Lau is surprisingly the double-agent. Andy Lau is an accomplished actor and he conveyed his character’s sacrifice convincingly. Andy Lau’s forlorn and downcast looks betrayed the deep hurt, seething anger and final anguish. It was a deft interpretation and conveyed more with facial expression and physical body language than in lines. I pitied him, but I couldn’t root for him, not after the horrendous attack on Mei.

Captain Jin, the second of the police officers chasing after the rebels, was not surprisingly the man to fall in love with Mei, as his character spends the most time in her company and cannot help himself but be smitten by Mei’s physical beauty. Played by Takeshi Kaneshiro who for the record is a dashingly handsome man, but also an actor of growing merit. I was enamoured with his boyish charm and playful interpretation of his character. His performance was outstanding and I am certain this role added to his growing career achievements.

Mei, the rebel sympathiser, rebel and comely Peony Pavilion dancer was played by one of Zhang Yimou’s favoured actresses, Zhang Ziyi. I cannot state it enough, I love this woman. She is such a gifted actress, I never had a bad word to say about her performances. She was quite the coquettish minx in this production. I was seduced by Zhang Ziyi’s graceful interpretation of Mei the entertainment house dancer, in awe of her fierce command of the wuxia-heavy scenes, and entranced by her seduction of Captain Jin. In fact, the discernment Zhang Yi has when it comes to playing a seductress is intimidating, but in a good way. I love her and I think I always will. She captured my heart in Memoirs of a Geisha, the first production I had seen her in. I’ve been hopelessly smitten ever since.

While the chemistry Zhang Ziyi shared with Takeshi Kaneshiro was enviable. Playful, romantic, bittersweet and tragic, I didn’t find the chemistry as strong between Zhang Ziyi and Andy Lau. Andy Lau looked almost uncomfortable at times, but that may be me over analysing his facial features and mimicry. Maybe his helmet was fastened too tight.

Speaking of helmets, the costumes for the film were unparalleled. The costume designer supposedly spent a lot of time researching for this production and the pieces mirror those worn during the Tang Dynasty. And wow, Mei’s wardrobe was magnificent. The outfits worn during her performances at the Peony Pavilion were stunning and angelic, with a little bit of sexiness added in for the men. They sure didn’t scream theatrical to me. The other pavilion enchantresses were in contrast, dressed in bright-coloured and flirtatious outfits. The soldiers were dapper in their studded uniforms. But, my favourite colour is green so I have to admit that I was blown away by the rebel attire, those slinky green robes, topped with handmade bamboo cone-shaped hats were my favourite, not only for the colour but for the elegance and simplicity. Just gorgeous!

oh! … sidekick

A passing commendation to all the supporting actors and actresses that complemented the leads in this production, and a special shout-out to Song Dandan who played both versions of Yee – owner of the Peony Pavilion and second-in-command of the House of Flying Daggers.

oh! … that’s a wrap

Zhang Yimou is a master of Zen! He created another classic masterpiece with dazzling displays coming at the audience from all corners of the screen. It was mesmerising and I wanted to step through the theatre and enter the world he created to be part of the story.

It was a calculated and strategic move on his part to blend unreal aesthetics and near-silent combat with a musical score nostalgic and melancholy musical score.

There were far too many elements that completed this production to review that I could not do this justice. And I have so many favoured scenes, but my favourite of all the wuxia combat was the repeated eye-view of the many daggers swooshing through the air light a missile, targeting an unlucky individual and only once was a dagger flung that missed its intended target and sadly brought the miserable end front and centre.

I recommend this film!

oh! … tidbits

The film was chosen as China’s entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for the year 2004 but was not nominated in that category, though it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Most of the film was shot in Ukraine‘s Carpathian Mountains (in the Hutsul Region National Park), such as the scenes in the birch forests and the final scene in the snow.

To prepare for her role, for two months, Zhang Ziyi lived with a blind girl who had lost her sight at the age of twelve because of a brain tumour.

Takeshi Kaneshiro injured his leg when he went horse-back riding. As a result, Yimou had Kaneshiro spend two scenes sitting or kneeling down in order to alleviate the pain, which was stated in Zhang Yimou’s audio commentary.

Anita Mui was originally cast for a major role, which was to be her final film appearance. She died of cervical cancer before any of her scenes were filmed. After her death on 30 December 2003, Zhang Yimou decided to alter the script rather than find a replacement. The film is dedicated to her memory.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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