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Overall Rating
3.77

Awesome35.4%
Worth A Look: 31.86%
Just Average: 12.39%
Pretty Crappy: 15.04%
Sucks: 5.31%

10 reviews, 53 user ratings


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House of Flying Daggers
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by Robert Flaxman

"Somewhat attractive, but utterly soulless."
2 stars

The second film directed by Zhang Yimou to hit American theaters in 2004, House of Flying Daggers avoids the heavy-handedness of Hero’s ending but falls well short of its predecessor in most other respects. The film has a coldness about it that strips away the intended emotions, leaving a rather unambitious love story punctuated by middling action sequences – it’s still visually attractive, but very little else works.

The plot is not necessarily complicated, but it folds back on itself enough times that any kind of summary would be difficult without ruining the film in some way. The titular house is an outlaw group that steals from the rich, gives to the poor, and hates the governing Tang dynasty. The old leader has recently been assassinated, and orders have come down to a regional police outfit that the new leader is to be assassinated within ten days. Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is sent to the Peony Pavilion, a brothel of sorts, to look into the possibility that a new girl there, Mei (Zhang Ziyi), has a connection to the house.

After that, a whole lot of things happen. Any plot element that is revealed is likely to be turned on its head within ten minutes. The near-constant twists are mildly interesting, but after a while it becomes relatively easy to guess what’s going to happen next, which is unfortunate since much of the movie seems to support itself exclusively by bouncing from twist to twist.

Daggers’ action scenes are occasionally fun, such as the fight in the bamboo forest, but most have little tension as they involve main characters who, it can safely be presumed, are not going to be killed. In addition, the film’s first fight scene suggests more of the high-flying wuxia action that Hero delivered, only for most of the rest of the film to fail to live up to that introduction.

Instead of delivering thrilling action sequences, the film comes through with a lot of gorgeous scenery and another good use of color from Zhang, but the driving force of the film is the romance, which makes it inexcusable that said plot should be done as poorly as it is. There is never any sense that the romantic leads are really in love with each other, nor a sense for how they could be. A third character is used to form a triangle late in the film, which drives the film towards a somewhat exciting, but wholly unsatisfying, finale featuring a Mexican standoff.

House of Flying Daggers creates about as effective a romance as the second Star Wars prequel – the leads spend most of the film alternately batting their eyes at each other and scowling, making their dramatic confession of love near the end feel false. The triangle only makes things worse, as the odd man out is the type one would root for in any normal film – i.e. the friend who’s been in love with the girl for years – but he’s such an unbelievable jerk that we can’t possibly be on his side. The triangle loses pretty much all of its theoretical dramatic heft as a result, but if Zhang really wanted it to add to the plot, he probably would have introduced it a little earlier in the film and actually bothered to develop it; instead, he does neither, tossing it in when it seems convenient and using the unsavory third character only to make the leads’ love seem better by comparison.

Worse still, the entire film is only created by a plot point near the start of the film which, after all the twists have been revealed, becomes a gaping hole. This might be more forgivable if the film it set into motion had more going on, but besides the incessant twists, there’s shockingly little substance to House of Flying Daggers, and not nearly enough style to make up for it.

The visuals are, generally speaking, very nice. While the palette is not quite as broad as in Hero, Zhang’s shot composition is still frequently gorgeous, and the colors are often spectacular. The CGI is frequently clumsy, though, and while the fight scenes are relatively kinetic, they are rarely that interesting visually. Complex wirework is used, but in about as dry a way as possible.

Not unlike Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, one of Daggers’ biggest mistakes is trying to bail out plot developments by pretending that they were completely natural for characters about whom we previously knew very little. The last third of Daggers rests almost exclusively on such contrivances, making the resolution phony and bland. There’s no reason to care about anyone in this film, and yet Zhang concludes by pushing as hard as he can on the drama lever and then running a sappy ballad over the end credits. It never works, and frankly it’s almost insulting that he thought it would.

It never quite reaches the level of tedium, but House of Flying Daggers is a cheap genre exercise that fails at ever becoming involving. Like one of its main characters, who likes to compare himself to the wind, the film breezes through the theater leaving nothing of substance behind, while leaving the viewer feeling cold.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10363&reviewer=385
originally posted: 01/25/05 02:54:59
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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

11/24/13 Vanessa C. Romeo and Juliet type of story but still great. 5 stars
7/22/08 Kala my own fault for watching a dub but...the version I watched was awful 1 stars
3/19/07 Stanley Thai One of the best films EVER. 5 stars
1/30/07 William Boyle Young lovers come to a sticky end. Silly at times but beautiful, and Zhang Ziyi is superb. 4 stars
7/01/06 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
9/01/05 Tom Burns Amazing! 5 stars
8/27/05 JFK great photography, and a great story 5 stars
8/15/05 Richie Cataulin Beautifully shot. Colors are abnomally beefed up and look like a living watercolor. 4 stars
6/06/05 CM Contrived and generic. That drum- dance scene was trite 2 stars
5/19/05 ad ! 5 stars
4/28/05 Quigley i was boerd at the lovey-dovey plot, but the action was good 3 stars
3/18/05 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
2/26/05 ;-) 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
2/09/05 David Bennett Beautiful scenery, dance, costumes, fight scenes 4 stars
2/08/05 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
1/31/05 Andrea Haresign great scenery, fight scenes are repetitive 3 stars
1/30/05 williamwar I liked this movie alot, but yes it was melodramatic. Best seen on the Big Screen!!! 5 stars
1/28/05 govenar Good scenery but silly plot. 3 stars
1/28/05 Richard Brandt As beautiful as "Hero" and twice as inscrutable 4 stars
1/26/05 ZF No emotional resonance whatsoever. Action fairly sloppy. 2 stars
1/24/05 BrianWilly Breathtaking. Renews my faith in my home country. 5 stars
1/17/05 malcolm it doesn't get any more melodramatic than this. zhang ziyi is as gorgeous as ever. 3 stars
1/15/05 Charlene Javier Beautiful but empty. 3 stars
1/12/05 Paul D Fantastic - try and catch this movie on the big screen 5 stars
1/02/05 Movie Lover Give me a break... Nothing new since Crouching Dragons & Hidden tigers, and Heroes... 1 stars
12/28/04 burton miller great fight scenes - lousy dialog - lousy characters - laughable story 3 stars
12/28/04 Mrwill chinese martial art film with good sound track and brilliant visual storytelling 4 stars
12/24/04 DM Better than the overrated "Hero" 5 stars
12/24/04 Hated it Wonderful... till it started. 1 stars
12/23/04 I Horrible. 1 stars
12/20/04 Mark D Fulwiler Awesome and beautiful 5 stars
12/18/04 Dan Olson Great visuals, terrible plot. I honestly don't know why it gets such positive reviews. 3 stars
12/17/04 Darren Shea Beautiful and complex, it brings martial arts films to a whole new level of artistry. 4 stars
12/11/04 Heather Stunning 5 stars
12/09/04 ASS STINK problematic insofar as the prpic demands 4 stars
12/09/04 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
12/04/04 maria No me gusto mucho. 1 stars
11/26/04 Yue Great action, not much thought 4 stars
11/24/04 jack very good action movie with romantic story 5 stars
10/22/04 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
10/16/04 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
9/23/04 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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  03-Dec-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Apr-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  17-Feb-2005


Directed by
  Zhang Yimou

Written by
  Li Feng
  Wang Bin
  Zhang Yimou

Cast
  Takeshi Kaneshiro
  Andy Lau
  Zhang Ziyi
  Dandan Song



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