House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Dandan Song,
Shi mian mai fu is a movie starring Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Andy Lau. A romantic police captain breaks a beautiful member of a rebel group out of prison to help her rejoin her fellows, but things are not what they seem.
  • 7.5 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Feng Li, Bin Wang, Writer:
  • Yimou Zhang, Director:
  • William Kong, Sook Yhun, Producer:

Trailer:

7 / 10

Following on from HERO with another visually arresting feature...

After absolutely loving 'Hero', I couldn't wait for Zhang Yimou's latest Wuxia Pien feature to arrive on DVD. After watching it, I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed, as it is another sumptuous, stylistic feature, which deserves all the accolades it is likely to receive.

The plot of the film is told in a more linear narrative when compared to that of 'Hero', but that is not to say it is any more straightforward. Set in the Tang Dynasty, the basic premise is nothing to write home about, featuring government officials on the trail of an underground rebel alliance 'The House of Flying Daggers'. However, there is enough characterisation and depth to hold your attention, while the (sometimes predictable) plot twists keep you guessing. Unfortunately, there is nothing entirely new about this story and it's probably familiar ground to fans of the wuxia genre. Nevertheless, it flows at a decent pace and is punctuated with enough stylistic action sequences that the 2-hour running time is quickly exhausted.

As with Yimou's impressive previous feature, Tony Ching Siu-tung takes over the action direction, producing another sterling performance. In my opinion, he is currently the top fight choreographer around after spending so many years being considered second fiddle to the likes of Yuen Wo-ping and Sammo Hung; he now deserves to be considered above them on his current output. In this instance, much of the overt stylisation evident in Hero is played down in favour of more grounded, natural martial artistry. There is still plenty of wire work and a spattering of CGI to aid the sequences, however, it is plain to see that much of the action displayed is a mix of genuine swordplay and actual technique. All the performers acquit themselves well considering none of them are formally trained in martial arts ? especially Zhang Ziyi who performs impressively from start to finish.

As you would expect from a Zhang Yimou film, the visuals are majestic, with primary colours and panoramic landscapes making up much of what we see. Unfortunately, many people do not seem to take to this artistic approach, and will label the film another case of style over substance. I would disagree, as I believe it contains plenty of both with a strong cast, interesting characters and high quality action to provide the foundation for the kind of bold, sumptuous visuals, which are rare to find in modern film.

Overall, I personally prefer 'Hero' but know of plenty who would disagree. As a result, I recommend it as a definite purchase to any fan of films from this genre.

8 / 10

A feast for the senses, a fully satisfying cinematic experience.

Shi Mian Mai Fu belongs to a growing body of work that embodies a clearly Asian aesthetic packaged just as clearly for Western consumption. It is no coincidence that, each time I paused the DVD for whatever reason, the still image on the screen was as beautiful as any classic wood block print by Hiroshige or Hokusai. Xiaoding Zhao's elegant cinematography imbues every scene with haunting beauty. Think Tak Fujimoto times ten, with no disrespect meant to Fujimoto, who shoots Western movies and still manages to inject his refined visual sense into such great films as Silence of the Lambs and Sixth Sense.

Director Yimou Zhang's work in Hero was more epic, more heroic, but SMMF has a more refined sense of story. The cast, the scenery, the music, including vocal performances by the legendary Kathleen Battle; all elements conspire brilliantly to convey subtle and nuanced meaning in moments. The story, as do all good stories of this genre, revolves around a delicate interplay of love, betrayal, deception and heroism of many different kinds, and, oh yes, those stunning ballets of combat layered with evocative sounds and effects.

In a nutshell, the plot goes something like this. A beautiful blind showgirl is captured as a spy. Her captors conspire to trick her into leading them to her leader. Along the way, both hunter and quarry become entangled in a web of subterfuge and deception. Add in a beautifully tragic romantic story line, again, as all such movies must have, and never forget that the essence of all truly great tragedy is inevitability.

This movie is also known as Ambush From Ten Sides, and in that more literal translation of its title you will find its essence. A worthy successor to Hero, though not as magnificent as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, in which Ziyi Zhang gives the performance of a lifetime and the one against all her other roles will be judged, and in this case, fall short, House of Flying Daggars is nevertheless a feast for the senses and a fully satisfying cinematic experience.

9 / 10

A pageantry of color, skill and story

There may be some unanswered questions at the end of the movie and yet I'd watch this film over and over again just to witness the use of costumes, the martial arts skill and how they blend to make a very palatable story. Those who are trashing this film do so senselessly. The films' lovebirds are throughly attractive but not at all bland and you root for them because they appear to belong together; they have a natural chemistry which can be difficult for two actors to have. As can be the case in Asian films, like the recent hit "Hero", the costumes and the use of color are important characters all by themselves. So many elements come together beautifully that what's also ironic is the that film could easily be a stage play. I enjoyed this immensely. Just awe-inspiring!

7 / 10

Almost a great film

Zhang Yimou set a new benchmark for martial arts movies with Hero. Visually both inventive and dazzling, whilst having a strong thematic thread, it still managed to kick ass, with energetic fight sequences. He continues in the same vein with House of Flying Daggers, with love and romance replacing Hero's chivalry and honour. It is at times as blisteringly exciting and exquisite to view, but there are a few problems.

Set in a similar time to Hero, the plot revolves around the mysterious House of Flying Daggers, a group of assassins leading a rebellion of sorts, against the rulers of their land. News has reached the local military captain Leo (Andy Lau) that the leader of the House can be found plying their trade in the local brothel. Sensing that this could be the key to ending their resistance he sends one of his men, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), to infiltrate the establishment posing as a customer. This soon leads him to the beautiful blind dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi), who may just be the daughter of the assassinated former leader of the House. What follows is his journey with edit her, through forests and meadows, as he vies to gain her trust, all the while intent on leading the army to their destination in an attempt to discover the leader of the House.

The plot is actually far more complicated than my short synopsis could come close to. We are treated to a twisty turny adventure, punctuated with set pieces of (excuse the tired terminology) balletic grace. Yimou sets a number of scenes within symmetrically perfect backgrounds, the picture set up like a work of art. We find ourselves in a dance hall encircled with drums, where the camera moves with a sense of fluidity, as though part of the dance, as we see Mei play a game of "echoes" with the Captain. Each time he hits a drum with a flicked nut, she follows, striking it with her flowing robes. The scene has a steady tempo, finally hitting a crescendo as the whole bowl is flung, nuts flying everywhere like missiles striking every drum. The sound of each strike reverberates like thunder.

For me the other set pieces never quite match the "echo" dance for majesty, rhythm or look. We get to see numerous showdowns between, with Mei and Jin taking on the soldiers that chase them, all the while with Jin trying to maintain his cover. The fights very much feel like a dance, and are filled with POV shots of arrows, sharpened bits of wood and of course flying daggers. I thought this camera trick felt overused, it looks good, but eventually started to feel tired as yet another dagger is seen boomeranging into action.

As events reach a climax, the plot gets pretty messy, as revelation after revelation is thrown about. In contrast to Hero's coda, where the action became about what's doing right for the good of the whole country, House of Flying Daggers has one of a more personal nature. It never quite rings true, there just isn't the emotion on display for this to work. The final act is somewhat botched, with a "it's over, no it isn't" feel to it, which caused a few "no ways" to be uttered in my vicinity. It is yet another gloriously shot scene, but we'd already seen some extraordinary moments. I felt it seemed to be reaching a more natural conclusion, and with a bit of editing a tighter last half hour would've made this a classic.

As it stands House of Flying Daggers is a fine movie, never quite as good as Hero, and probably behind Crouching Tiger too, and maybe it goes on a bit too long, but it's far superior to most of the formulaic actioners Hollywood produces. Out of ten, I'd give it an eight.

9 / 10

Beautiful Romantic Adventure

In the Ninth Century, the Tang Dinasty in China is weak and corrupt, and an army of rebels called "The House of the Flying Daggers" fights against the government military forces, and steals from the rich to give to the poor people. Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), two captains of the government army, plot a scheme against the rebels using the blind dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi) to approach their leaders, but their love for Mei leads them to a tragedy.

"Shi mian mai fu" is a beautiful romantic adventure, with amazing clothing, cinematography, colors, music score, fight and martial arts choreography and special effects. The story begins like an action movie, and ends like a tragic romance. Visually, it is an impressive masterpiece, the story is also very nice, Zhang Ziyi is amazingly gorgeous and I really liked this movie a lot. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): "O Cl? das Adagas Voadoras"("The Clan of the Flying Daggers")