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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 31.86%
Average: 12.39%
Pretty Bad: 15.04%
Total Crap: 5.31%

10 reviews, 53 user ratings

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House of Flying Daggers
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jay Seaver

"Lovers AND fighters"
4 stars

The art-house action movie is a strange phenomenon. They are foreign imports almost by definition; a domestic action movie would open in multiplexes, with few exceptions (Equilibrium is the only recent example that leaps to mind); on the other hand, the boutique audience isn't always willing to appreciate a good action scene as something worth striving for on its own, advancing the plot be damned.

Though, to give it its due, House of Flying Daggers holds its own in the plot department. The title refers to a group of rebels operating just outside the capitol; having received information that the rebels have a new agent placed inside the Peony Pavilion brothel, the police send one of their number, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), undercover. When they find out the beautiful new dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi) is blind, well, the old leader had a blind daughter, didn't he? Hoping that she'll lead them to their leader, a disguised Jin breaks her out of prison. As his partner Leo (Andy Lau) informs him during a secret meeting, though, an overzealous general is troops to stop them, or at least make the escape appear convincing. It's enough to make Jin question whether he's on the right side.

Lau, of Infernal Affairs, is once again playing the infiltration game, only this time it doesn't take place in modern China. And, of course, there's a pretty girl involved, meaning that the matter will become personal at some point. It is a believable whirlwind romance, though, even when characters become aware of the multiple levels of deception involved. It may be unnecessarily tragic toward the end; though it makes for grand opera, but do people really think in such operatic terms? I'm not sure.

Visually, this film is a stunner. Director Zhang Yimou saturates the first half with color, with the scenes at the Peony Pavilion a sight to behold, especially during an "Echo Game", in which Leo throws stones at drums and blind Mei must repeat their sequence. He also uses this part of the movie to establish the style of the action scenes: They are unusually digital effects-intensive, with the camera following thrown objects or flying through the scene in slow motion.

As an aside, I find it an amusing irony that the action movies that become boutique-house successes in the United States feature a lot of FX trickery - digital weapons, extensive wire-work - while the Jackie Chan and Jet Li stuff which works based upon the incredible athleticism of its stars is relegated to the grindhouse. Aren't the boutique types usually the first ones to dismiss an American movie for being nothing but digital effects?

Flying Daggers is more, of course - its plot holds together pretty well, aside from being an excuse to string action scenes together. The characters are well-drawn and well-acted, and Yimou brings more artistry to this kind of movie than one might expect. During the final action sequence, for instance, the season seems to change from summer, to fall, to winter. The characters don't fight for four whole months, of course, but Yimou is able to make this metaphorical change in the world work, when in a less sure hand it might seem pretentious or nonsensical. One of the giants of world cinema, Yimou has only recently turned his hand to action/adventure (Flying Daggers is his follow-up to Hero), and he brings more attention to detail and storytelling sense than some of the genre's other practitioners.

House of Flying Daggers serves as a reminder that action movies don't have to be stupid, and that movies about human feelings can be illustrated with bold, physical confrontations. It's the epitome of the art-house action movie, and it would be a fine thing if we could see more like it.

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originally posted: 12/26/04 03:00:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 New York Film Festival. For more in the 2004 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Leeds Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Leeds Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/25/13 Vanessa C. Romeo and Juliet type of story but still great. 5 stars
7/23/08 Kala my own fault for watching a dub but...the version I watched was awful 1 stars
3/20/07 Stanley Thai One of the best films EVER. 5 stars
1/31/07 William Boyle Young lovers come to a sticky end. Silly at times but beautiful, and Zhang Ziyi is superb. 4 stars
7/02/06 Ry crappy story.. Hero much better 2 stars
5/12/06 mr.seraph beautiful.... no other word can describe it... 5 stars
9/11/05 Al. splendid 4 stars
9/02/05 Tom Burns Amazing! 5 stars
8/28/05 JFK great photography, and a great story 5 stars
8/16/05 Richie Cataulin Beautifully shot. Colors are abnomally beefed up and look like a living watercolor. 4 stars
6/07/05 CM Contrived and generic. That drum- dance scene was trite 2 stars
5/20/05 ad ! 5 stars
4/29/05 Quigley i was boerd at the lovey-dovey plot, but the action was good 3 stars
3/19/05 Green Grenlim Visually stunning, but not as good as Crouching tiger 4 stars
3/18/05 Ashley Corepning Visually stunning, but conceptually preposterous in every way. 2 stars
3/15/05 Zach Loved it 5 stars
2/27/05 ;-) Their terrible behind the wheel but great at makin films, go figure! 4 stars
2/18/05 matthew smith unlike some of you, House of flying daggers is a staggering film to watch, stunning. 5 stars
2/10/05 David Bennett Beautiful scenery, dance, costumes, fight scenes 4 stars
2/09/05 jeff try to watch it when ur high!!! just as good as hero if not better. 5 stars
2/05/05 axe like a reader's digest condensed version of an epic wrapped up hastily with extra schmalz 3 stars
2/01/05 Andrea Haresign great scenery, fight scenes are repetitive 3 stars
1/31/05 williamwar I liked this movie alot, but yes it was melodramatic. Best seen on the Big Screen!!! 5 stars
1/29/05 govenar Good scenery but silly plot. 3 stars
1/29/05 Richard Brandt As beautiful as "Hero" and twice as inscrutable 4 stars
1/27/05 ZF No emotional resonance whatsoever. Action fairly sloppy. 2 stars
1/24/05 BrianWilly Breathtaking. Renews my faith in my home country. 5 stars
1/18/05 malcolm it doesn't get any more melodramatic than this. zhang ziyi is as gorgeous as ever. 3 stars
1/16/05 Charlene Javier Beautiful but empty. 3 stars
1/13/05 Paul D Fantastic - try and catch this movie on the big screen 5 stars
1/03/05 Movie Lover Give me a break... Nothing new since Crouching Dragons & Hidden tigers, and Heroes... 1 stars
12/29/04 burton miller great fight scenes - lousy dialog - lousy characters - laughable story 3 stars
12/29/04 Mrwill chinese martial art film with good sound track and brilliant visual storytelling 4 stars
12/25/04 DM Better than the overrated "Hero" 5 stars
12/25/04 Hated it Wonderful... till it started. 1 stars
12/24/04 I Horrible. 1 stars
12/20/04 Mark D Fulwiler Awesome and beautiful 5 stars
12/19/04 Dan Olson Great visuals, terrible plot. I honestly don't know why it gets such positive reviews. 3 stars
12/18/04 Darren Shea Beautiful and complex, it brings martial arts films to a whole new level of artistry. 4 stars
12/12/04 Heather Stunning 5 stars
12/10/04 ASS STINK problematic insofar as the prpic demands 4 stars
12/10/04 Kristina Williams even better looking than Hero, if you van imagine that. 5 stars
12/05/04 Raymond Li Awesom-A Chinese Indiana Jones-great afternoon matinee! 5 stars
12/05/04 maria No me gusto mucho. 1 stars
11/27/04 Yue Great action, not much thought 4 stars
11/25/04 jack very good action movie with romantic story 5 stars
10/23/04 Jon Cheung Bad char. dev. for Lau, poor storyline (last 1/2 especially). Good action seq. + Zhang Ziyi 2 stars
10/19/04 realyn its very good movie i watch it over and over again, cooL movie 5 stars
10/17/04 Bobby Stunning! Exceeds CTHD and Hero 5 stars
10/15/04 Pete Sorry, hate it. Friends had a good laugh over most of the scenes though 1 stars
10/12/04 Dong Ampil de los Reyes All-too lush... It's a spectacle 5 stars
9/24/04 Kim I kept watching it over & over again. 5 stars
9/12/04 Zaharin Hamid aka The Movie Samseng Good romantic storyline and great action scenes. But how come that dagger didn't fall out? 4 stars
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  03-Dec-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Apr-2005



Directed by
  Zhang Yimou

Written by
  Li Feng
  Wang Bin
  Zhang Yimou

  Takeshi Kaneshiro
  Andy Lau
  Zhang Ziyi
  Dandan Song

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