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House Of Flying Daggers (2004)
Director: Chang Yimou

review by Christopher Geary

Set during the decline of the Tang dynasty (circa mid-9th century), this highly intriguing slice of kung fu adventure is a tale of political subterfuge and romantic passion that takes on the stature of epic folklore thanks to the impressive visual effects and enthusiastic performances from the main cast. Basically a three-hander, House Of Flying Daggers (aka: Shimian Maifu) makes all of the recent fantasy-action offerings from Hollywood seem like unimaginative trash. Compared to this Hong Kong styled Chinese production (which, unfortunately, is likely to be marginalised by its subtitles), bogus A-list features such as Blade Trinity are superficial, pedestrian and dreadfully clichéd.

Zhang Zi-yi as blind dancer Mei fighting in the trees, again!

As she proved in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (playing alongside Michelle Yeoh and Chow-Yun-fat), and The Warrior, where she was the leading lady, Zhang Zi-yi is one of the most exciting, talented and glamorous stars of today. As blind heroine Mei, a new dancer at the Pelony Pavilion, she exudes irresistible charm and effortless grace. No wonder the local police captain Jin (Takeshi Keneshiro) falls under her spell. But womanising Jin's suspicious colleague, Leo (the uniquely watchable Andy Lau, star of Infernal Affairs, Fulltime Killer, and Island Of Greed), appears rather less susceptible to Mei's feminist wiles. And, following a frankly astonishing display of silk-twirling ballet, sporty drum-playing and show-stopping martial artistry, the seemingly ruthless super-cop Leo succeeds in breaking the mysterious Mei's masquerade as an undercover agent for rebel army group, the House of Flying Daggers.

Jin poses as roguish adventurer Wind to rescue the imprisoned Mei, and the couple escape into the countryside, pursued by imperial soldiers. There's a dramatic chase, stylish choreography for the fight in a bamboo forest, inevitable romantic interludes´┐Ż several climactic revelations at once, and one of the cinema's most breathtaking instances of 'sympathetic nature', as the autumnal golden-brown fields that play host to a final duel are snowed over as the sudden arrival of winter blankets the landscape in white.

House of Flying Daggers poster

The frequently operatic dramas in House Of Flying Daggers deliver a beguiling ambiance of gritty realism boosted with the mythic resonance of revenge killings by tormented souls, and shows us both male and female hearts broken by deceit and betrayal, illustrating the dangers of desire. In an early scene, courtesan Mei sings a song of how lust for beauty may destroy a city or even a nation. Here, director Chang Yimou (the maker of Hero) sets out to prove that the entire human world (freedom, independence, compassion) is at stake.
House of Flying Daggers

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