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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
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by Chris Parry

"Moments of astonishing greatness followed by yawn-inducing romance"
3 stars

As the closing credits roll on House of Flying Daggers, you begin to wonder whether it marks the end of the recent American movement towards the high-flying martial arts historical epic. It’s not that Daggers is a bad movie – in fact, it’s quite enjoyable for the most part, and incredibly beautiful in others – it’s that there doesn’t seem to be a lot left in the genre that we haven’t seen before, and several times at that. I’ve always been a huge fan of Asian period martial arts flicks, but they were usually small in scope, abundantly inventive and, most of all, a whole lot of fun. House of Flying Daggers starts off that way, but gets so caught up in trying to impress the audience with sprawling vistas and love triangles that the end result is a confused, drawn-out yawn.

Zhang Yimou has a good track record in moviemaking, not the least of which was this summer’s $53m arthouse success, Hero (actually, Hero was made in 2002 but Miramax sat on it for two years), but has the lure of big budget, US audience-intended, chop socky epics dulled his ability to identify what works on screen and what doesn’t? That’s really the only way you can explain the way House of Flying Daggers starts off grand and slides continually down the excitement scale over its two-hour running time, lumbering to a drawn-out finish that is anything but worthy of the opening scenes.

The time is around the end of the Tang Dynasty, and the local constabulary is on edge. Seems a group of Robin Hood-like rebels, the House of Flying Daggers, has been causing trouble, stealing money from the government and giving it to the poor. And we can’t have that, can we? So a couple of deputies - Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau) decide to go investigate a beautiful blind brothel dancer by the name of Mei (Zhang Ziyi), who is rumored to be a member of the Daggers. The plan is for Leo to bust Mei out of prison and travel with her to the leader of the rebel group, with Jin always watching from afar. But love gets involved and next thing you know, everyone is double-crossing everyone.

While all this is going on, unknown cinematographer (at least in the west) Xiaoding Zhao combines with similarly unknown Art Director Zhong Han to create a look to the film that is simply incredible. Every single frame is a scene that wouldn’t look out of place hanging on a wall, and every single scene makes you sit back and say “wow.” But while the scenery is breathtaking, it never stops being breathtaking, to the point where it becomes such a distraction that it hurts the film. Several scenes feature sprawling shots of the countryside that seem to change seasons even while the actual scene in the foreground is happening. One moment the trees are green, the next they’re brilliant red, then they’re orange - and then it’s snowing. Okay, I get it, you’re handy with the camera, now get over yourself.

But as beautiful as the backgrounds are, Zhang Ziyi is the single most aesthetically pleasing element in the film, and her pre-acting career as a professional ballet dancer is put to great use in the opening scenes. From the outset, Flying Daggers resembles a piece of cinematic dance performance art, and it’s in these early scenes that the film is at its best. Ziyi is simply breathtakingly beautiful, and every second she’s on screen is a second of the film where all attention is focused on her.

Unfortunately, good looks and screen presence don’t beat a tired script, and the romantic end of Flying Daggers is by no means the stuff that great love stories are made of. All the guys seem to be potential rapists, leaving them entirely unsympathetic, and Ziyi’s character, while more than capable with hand and foot, is hardly the personality-loaded type that will win the hearts of the audience. In the end, you just don’t care whether these people find true love or not, because the film… Just. Won’t. End.

We’ve seen the shots where thousands of arrows are coming at us, and where the bamboo splits around a sword, and where the bad guys dance in the treetops. It’s been done. It’s over. Find a new way to make us go “wow.’

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originally posted: 12/08/04 19:20:14
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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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