97. House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Sharp at first, but blunt towards the end

Directed by: Yimou Zhang
Written by: Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang
Starring: Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau

Martial arts films have come a long way since their almost slapstick sound effects and super quick close ups. House of Flying Daggers is testimony to the Chinese film industry as the long standing master of the genre, seducing us with its luxurious use of colour and keeping us entertained with enough stunt tricks to poke a bamboo stick at.But while the visual effects and high kicks are impressive, the tightness of the film’s plot slowly unravels into a rather loose-ended love story that had us too involved in other intriguing details that we never really get to find out.

house of flying daggers

Hitting all the right targets in visual direction

An underground rebellion is being headed by a mysterious group called (you guessed it) House of Flying Daggers, intent on bringing down the corrupt Tang dynasty. A mission is handed to two Tang captains, Leo (Lau) and Jin (Kaneshiro) to uncover the rebels’ hideout and capture the leader himself, and with the blind daughter of the leader, Mei (Zhang), in their possession, they decide a few deceptive tricks in love will lead them straight to their goal.

What unfolds is essentially a love story, and while it is moving and compelling, it isn’t as engaging as the conflict set up in the first act of the film between Tang and Flying Daggers. The progression of the film, in fact, becomes less involving and compelling – even though the stakes get higher for the characters. From hypnotically colourful performances of movement and music to rather cliche and predictable fight scenes in the end of the film, House of Flying Daggers is only consistent in its eye-catching visual direction.

Having said this, it is the optical orgy that gives us the greatest pleasure in watching this film. Many of the scenes look like something straight out of a detailed tapestry or painting, to the point where it is hard to discern reality from fantasy. This element of magic and beauty that weaves its way throughout the entire film is unlike that which we are used to seeing in mainstream action flicks that blow up things in our face to make an impression.

There’s no doubt that Chinese film has an authenticity about its cinematic martial arts and visually stunning culture, but without a sharp story, it can slowly blunt towards the end in its impact, emotional effect and overall impression.


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