Chinese director Zhang Yimou fuses a martial arts action-drama with a tragic romance in this elegant period piece. In the year 859 A.D., as the Tang dynasty is beset by rebellion, Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are a pair of lawmen who have been given the task of ferreting out the leaders of a revolutionary faction known as the Flying Daggers. Working on a tip that members of the group are working out of a brothel called the Peony Pavilion, Jin arrives there in disguise and is introduced to a beautiful blind dancer named Mei (Zhang Ziyi). After watching Mei's performance following several drinks, Jin drunkenly attempts to have his way with her, and Leo is forced to intervene. After gaining Mei's trust in a game of skill, Leo arrests her and informs her that she'll be tortured if she doesn't tell all she knows about the Flying Daggers. Jin responds by helping Mei break out of prison, but he has an ulterior motive -- by following her, Leo and Jin are certain she'll lead them to the Flying Daggers. However, as he helps the blind girl find her way back home, Jin finds himself falling in love with Mei, and isn't certain if he's willing to betray her again. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
Movie Level Themes
Star-Crossed Lovers, Crisis of Conscience, Political Unrest
Movie Level Tones
Lavish, Lyrical, Stylized, Sweeping
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Creating the visual effects
2004--British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Emi Wada-Nominee
2004--Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Huo Tingxiao-Winner
Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers bursts with energy in nearly every frame, inviting the type of hyperbole usually associated with Hollywood ad blurbs: "Pulse-pounding!," "Breathtaking!," "Heart-stopping!" Yet the brilliant imagery lives up to such over-the-top language, accurately describing the visceral nature of this visually stimulating work. Scenes like the colorful "echo game" exist solely to amaze our senses, and the battle in the bamboo forest stands as one of the most sublime fight scenes in recent memory. Although firmly within the realm of fantasy, the "wuxia" action has a surprisingly brutal quality, setting it apart from other recent mainstream entries in the genre. Beyond the violence and pageantry, though, House of Flying Daggers also succeeds with some tastefully erotic romance scenes, helping to warm up the otherwise distant characters. But unlike Zhang's Hero, a true model of lean storytelling, House of Flying Daggers drags in the third act by introducing what amounts to an entirely new relationship dynamic. The movie loses momentum once Jin and Mei reach their supposed destination, and ends with a final confrontation between three characters that's handled with muddled choreography and an uncharacteristically poor sense of space. In the end, the plot is too superficially complex for its own good, creating setups and characters it doesn't fully develop. But to criticize script shortcomings in a movie this hypnotically beautiful almost seems cruel. House of Flying Daggers is disappointing only in the sense that it falls short of being a masterpiece. ~ Skyler Miller, Rovi
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