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House of Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu) (2004)

  Directed by: Yimou Zhang
Written by: Feng Li, Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang
Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Ziyi Zhang
Links: House of Flying Daggers on the IMDb, Official site
Genre: Based on True Story

This movie gets: 8.00 (2 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 53rd of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

House of Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu) (2004) is also mentioned in timchuma's review of Dragon Inn (1992), timchuma's review of Flying Dagger (1993) and pearly's review of The Princess Blade (2001).

"Not the same as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon!" - a review by timchuma

I have to admit that this movie is very hard to take in from just one viewing, but I will try anyway. If you really want to know the story of the movie, you can pick up one of the promotional postcards from the cinema lobby. Alternatively, the trailer is quite good for promoting the movie, and has encouraged a lot of people to see it. I have heard other people compare it to the William Shakespeare play Othello, with its themes of love, trust and betrayal.

What I liked about the set-up of the story was that it reminded me a lot of the English legend of Robin Hood. Even though this movie doesn't really deal with The Flying Daggers themselves, it is still a good premise.

Andy Lau plays Leo, this story's version of the 'Sheriff of Nottingham'. He is very good in a fight and cunning also. I thought it was a nicely restrained performance by Andy Lau. Even though he doesn't get as much time on screen as the two leads, he plays his scenes excellently.

Takeshi Kaneshiro plays the deputy, Jin, who goes deep undercover on assignment to follow Mei (Ziyi Zhang) back to The Flying Daggers' hideout. I haven't really seen Takeshi Kaneshiro in many movies, but Ziyi Zhang is getting to be a regular in this genre, and she seems to be really enjoying her role in this film.

Ziyi Zhang has appeared in several films with this director now (one of his trademarks is working with one main female star), from The Road Home (1999) to the more recent Hero (2002). I have read in interviews that she enjoyed this movie, as she got to play a more leading role.

One of the most striking things about this movie is its use of colour. This is probably most evident in the bamboo forest scenes with their deep glowing greens and super-saturated colours. Another very striking effect occurs in the snow battle scene, where the deep reds and golden colours of the trees are blanked out by a blizzard in a flash.

Another thing that stands out is the use of sound in the movie. Again with the fight in the bamboo forest I liked how they concentrated on the breathing of the two main characters as they were trying to flee their attackers. Some of the sounds are jarring and harsh, like the clashing of swords, and the whistling flying bamboo spears gets a bit annoying at one stage.

The music in this movie is quite subdued (apart from the ending credits song by Kathleen Battle) compared to other big movies such as Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). This is due to there being a different composer on this movie: Shigeru Umebayashi. This is good, as Hero did sound a bit too much like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at times. I didn't know it at the time, but star Ziyi Zhang also features on the soundtrack, which is a nice touch.

After the stunning work Christopher Doyle did in Hero as cinematographer, it is a very hard movie to top. I think Xiaoding Zhao does it very well, as there is always something interesting on screen and there is a lot going on. Like a kid opening their presents on Christmas Day, I think they might have gotten a bit too excited with this being their debut feature.

Australian visual effects company Animal Logic has done a wonderful job with the visual effects in this movie. There are also many other people working on this aspect of production and it shows in the work they have produced. As you would expect, the "flying dagger" becomes a visual hallmark in this movie, as we see it spin end over end many times during its flight.

The costumes really stood out also, with very bright colours and lots of billowing robes. Emi Wada the designer also did the costumes for Hero, but in this movie they are much more elaborate and striking. Special mention must go to The Flying Dagger's costumes. They are among some of the best I have seen in any Kung Fu movie. Green wicker hats and sea green robes may not sound like a good combination, but they look really great against the bamboo forest setting and contribute to the impact when we first meet the clan.

Bringing the whole look of the film together is Zhong Han. This is also his debut feature in art direction. The way all the elements are combined into a coherent style is unique. Special mention must go to some of the sets, such as the Peony Pavilion, that look spectacular.

Often forgotten in these historical epics is the work of the martial arts coordinator. With many of the best ones going off to Hollywood, Cai Li steps in and does very well. Something that also works very well is the combination of martial arts with dance. Jianmin Zhang the choreographer demonstrates this with the 'bean game' sequence in the Peony Pavilion, with very elegant moves on screen by Ziyi Zhang's character.

Even though there is a lot to praise about this movie, I did have some problems with it. The Flying Daggers are introduced in such a dramatic way that it knocks the wind out of you. After this they are hardly shown on screen, except for some boring dialogue scenes. Also, some of the scenes are a bit unbelievable, like with the 'zombie soldiers', and like in the movie Bichunmoo (2000) they can't decide if they want some of the characters to stay dead or not.

This movie will draw inevitable comparisons to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but I think it draws more from the Chinese Opera traditions than from that movie. In particular, the sets and costumes, and the fact that there is an actual opera by the name of Peony Pavilion.

For many of the crew, this movie is their debut feature. This may explain some of the issues I had with it. However, they do show a lot of promise, and hopefully they will get to work on more movies with the same director so that they can develop their skills.

I have heard people recommend this movie as a 'date movie', but I would recommend waiting for DVD if you are prone to crying, as this movie plays with your emotions like a Chinese Erhu (traditional two-stringed violin). Despite that, if your partner falls asleep while watching Kung Fu movies, this would be a good movie to take them to see, due to the romantic themes that will keep them interested while you enjoy the action scenes.

timchuma gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 31 Mar 2005

"Quite an experience" - a review by pearly

I'm not sure whether there's a named genre by which these films can be grouped, but that subset of martial arts films which consist of fighting, but with visually stunning, supernatural moves and surrounds are films that I really appreciate, mainly on an aesthetic level. I'm talking about films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) (the one which introduced most Westerners to this type of film), more recently Hero (2002), and now, from the same director as Hero, House of Flying Daggers.

Yimou Zhang once again sets out to tell an tale of times past, in a style that is at times so captivating that it distracts you from the story, and makes you simply focus on the visuals. It is a film for all the senses, not just one for the mind.

The House of Flying Daggers is a rebel group made up of individuals with one common thought: that the government are evil and must be overthrown. They're an elusive group; the police, though they have been trying for years, and have managed to capture the previous leader, cannot break the group up, or indeed, even discover who any of the key people within the group are. They have a lead, though: a young and beautiful blind dancer who is suspected to be the daughter of the old leader. Her name is Mei (Ziyi Zhang). Policemen Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau) manage to arrest Mei, but instead of being happy with that, they hatch a plan together to use Mei to lead them to more of the members of the House.

This is a tale of deception, fighting for what you believe is right, and love. It is, in a way, more of a simple story than that which was told in Hero, though both are complicated in their own ways. I found it easier to just relax and take in the surrounds with House of Flying Daggers than with Hero for some reason. That said, the visuals in this film are very different, and perhaps not quite as stunning. In Hero, I loved the amount of colour that burst off the screen and drowned your eyes. With this film, the colour is less in-your-face, yet there are still some amazingly stunning backdrops, and if the background is not to your liking, then you can always spend time marvelling at the absolutely gorgeous Zhang, along with her rather handsome male leads (Kaneshiro was my favourite of the two).

These films are definitely more than just their visual appeal, but the stylised feel of the thing is what you will remember about them. House of Flying Daggers has some particularly memorable moments, like the scenes in the bamboo jungle, Mei's dance for the drum game, and even the leafy hats worn by the members of the House. The story is also compelling and heartbreaking.

I scored House of Flying Daggers slightly higher in terms of story, but slightly lower in terms of visuals, than Hero. The thing is, though, I believe that each of the films mentioned in this review are must-sees, so quibbling over the smaller aspects is not really worth it. Watching a film like this is more than just a bit of fun, it's a real experience, and the cinema is definitely the way to enjoy that experience. Make a night of it with a few friends, and you'll all come away having to gasp for breath at its end.

pearly gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 23 Feb 2005

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 8.00
Lowest rating: 8 (by timchuma, pearly)
Highest rating: 8 (by timchuma, pearly)
Rating Percentage

Reader comments

  1. Tim: There is absolutely nothing wrong with crying at the cinema.

    A comment from nofreelist's own pearly on Thu 31 Mar 2005 16:50 #

  2. Umm... the title of a film isnt its premise tim (ie "Even though this movie doesn't really deal with The Flying Daggers themselves, it is still a good premise." - yeah your stupidity speaks for itself). Im worried that you dont understand such basic cinema language. And dont tell your audience to go to the cinema and pick up a "promotional postcard" because: a) that would be inconvenient and time consuming, especially when it leaves the box office, b) its your job as a reviewer and a basic convention of a review to outline the general plot and c) they're not postcards as they are not apart of the postal system. These are just some things I thought you could benefit from knowing. Cheers.

    A comment from sorry wrong on Thu 31 Mar 2005 18:09 #

  3. lalalalala tim must die lalalalalalaa

    A comment from lalalala on Thu 31 Mar 2005 22:37 #

  4. 1000+ word review of a movie and you still don't like it! Godamn $%^&*!

    A comment from nofreelist's own timchuma on Fri 01 Apr 2005 14:13 #

  5. quality, not quantity my dear

    A comment from oh dear on Sat 02 Apr 2005 01:22 #

  6. Why is everybody picking on Tim? At least he's writing some reviews.

    A comment from Stop Picking On Tim on Sun 03 Apr 2005 13:56 #

  7. yes thats the problem. He is clogging this site with shit. And lots of it.

    A comment from Dont Stop on Mon 04 Apr 2005 16:08 #

  8. I'm more concerned with how people are so cheap in their comments. They probably only read the reviews so they can pick which movie to download from bitorrent or whatnot.

    A comment from nofreelist's own timchuma on Mon 04 Apr 2005 17:00 #

  9. i have to agree with you tim when you say that your readers "probably only read the reviews so they can pick which movie to download from bitorrent or whatnot." I mean, thats probably the only thing your "reviews" are good for.

    A comment from poor tim on Wed 13 Apr 2005 14:58 #

  10. i loved the scene with Mei and the drums =]

    A comment from moving on... on Thu 14 Apr 2005 18:03 #

  11. This movie was so passionate and beautiful. the photography was GORGEOUS...throughout the whole thing my mind was BLOWN AWAY, the field...the bamboo, just EVERYTHING. the costumes were AMAZING...and the story of Mei and Jin I have to say has been one of my favorites.

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Rikki Obayashi on Sat 30 Apr 2005 08:38 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 10.00 (1 rating)

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