Film Review: The House of Flying Daggers

‘The House of Flying Daggers’ radiates a splendid concoction of beauty, manipulation, love and loyalty. Along with impossible filmic mastery and an even more impossible love triangle, this film is arguably a true masterpiece. My only complaint is that the characters are sometimes lacking in substance. However, this is more than made up for through the films immense visual standard. A film by Chinese Director Zang Yimou (Hero) fuses martial arts with a tragic drama in this elegant epic making for an intense movie experience.

The year is 859 AD, and China’s once flourishing Tang Dynasty is in decline. Turbulence is rampant and the corrupt government is locked in battle with rebel armies that are forming in protest. The most prestigious of these rebel groups is The House of Flying Daggers, a secret organisation that steal from the rich in order to help the poor and is growing all the more potent day by day under the power of an enigmatic new leader.

Two Captains of the government military, Officer Leo (Andy Lau) and Officer Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) investigate a young blind dancer named Mei (Ziyi Zhang). Rumour has it that the deceased leader of the Flying Daggers had a blind daughter who now resides in a nearby brothel, The Peony Pavilion, as a performer but all is not what it seems. Leo arrests Mei, only to have Jin breaking her free in a plot to gain her trust and lead the police to the new leader of The House of Flying Daggers. However, the two Captains love for Mei, interfere with their mission and lead them to sheer tragedy.

Throughout Jin and Mei’s journey to The House of Flying Daggers, they are faced with numerous obstacles set by the government, which Jin is already aware of. However, Jin finds himself falling in love with Mei which, is reluctantly reciprocated, as she is wary of how trustworthy Jin truly is. After unlimited fight scenes and a writhing sexual tension, Mei and Jin finally arrive at The House of Flying Daggers. Jin is manipulated into thinking he is speaking with the new leader Nia but that would be too simple.

We discover that Mei is not blind at all and seduces government militaries in order to kill them, Jin being one of them.  Jin is captured and feels utterly betrayed. Leo then appears and he is not who we were lead to believe either. Leo was originally sent to the government military by The Flying Daggers as a mole, over three years ago, when he also left the love of his life, Mei. They see each other again but Mei no longer has the feelings she once had for him. Jin is now the person at which her heart belongs. Driven by his obsession with the magnificent Mei and a raging jealousy, he tries to rape her but is stopped by The Flying Daggers. He walks away. Mei is then set another task ‘Kill Jin’.

Mei takes Jin, but cannot kill him and urges that they cannot be together either. He walks away, begging her to go with him. She refuses. Moments later after some more visual treasures, Mei rides after Jin, but is stabbed by a dagger set out by Leo. Jin returns to find Mei dying. Jin and Leo then have an incredible fight scene. However, the sequence goes on for quite a while and is overly exaggerated. The scene goes from a warm autumn wood to a cold white snow storm dashed with deep crimson. Mei awakes and threatens to remove the dagger ending her life. She does and Jin and Leo walk away. End.

‘The House of Flying Daggers’ is never less then hypnotic making for a true visual masterpiece. Rich tints dominate the screen offering a vibrant colour palette along with impressive martial arts sequences filmed with immense artistry and glorious cinematography at which every frame exudes an impeccable sensuality and grandeur.  It makes it almost impossible to decide which scene I found most visually enjoyable. The Peony Pavilion in particular is a marvellous set, resplendent with detail and the introducing place to the unbelievably beautiful Mei. Her performance for Captain Jin, who is dressed in disguise, is a sheer delight. Mei’s haunting voice and graceful dancing is set ablaze with her luxuriously colourful costumes, regal setting and the slow motion frames of her incredibly flexible dance moves.  The bamboo forest drenched in green lusciousness is another gem. The fog obscured forest erupts into a superbly intricate vertical battle, where the fighters run high atop the bamboo forest, use them as weapons and use them as balancing beams. It’s probably the best fight scene in the entire film. The daggers are also important to mention as they are used to represent the film as a whole. Zhang’s camera tracks the knives Matrix-style as they leave the hand of the thrower, spin through the air and slam into their targets. It’s beautiful to watch and masks their real deadliness.

‘The House of Flying Daggers’ is visually beautiful and displays martial art sequences in a new and intrinsically artistic way. The story and characters are sometimes lacking but it doesn’t harm the film majorly. The twists are unexpected and the film is gracious and unique.

Word Count: 877

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