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Overall Rating

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 Peter Sobczynski

"Far more engaging and entertaining than 'Hero'"
5 stars

Although Zhang Yimou’s 2002 martial-arts epic “Hero” was a hit with critics and audiences when it finally appeared on American screens earlier this year, I was not one of its fans. I admired the visual beauty of the film and some of the battle sequences (especially the one in which Jet Li did battle with an avalanche of arrows) were pretty spectacular. However, the arch story structure that Zhang employed, full of flashbacks upon flashbacks-most of which turn out to be lies-and characters constantly revealing themselves to be quite different from how they initially appeared, was so convoluted that I found it impossible to develop any sort of emotional involvement with any of the proceedings. With “House of Flying Daggers”, his latest excursion into the genre of arty kung-fu, he has once again made a visually ravishing film with action scenes thrilling enough to inspire even the most jaded moviegoer. The difference here is that Zhang has employed them in the service of a more direct storyline and the result is a far more engaging and entertaining film.

Once again, Zhang tells a story of deception, intrigue, romance, heartbreak and conspiracy set in the days of ancient China. During the waning days of the Tang Dynasty in 859 AD, two police officers, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Lao (Andy Lau), learn that Mei (Zhang Ziyi), a beautiful blind showgirl at a local house of ill repute is, in fact, a member of a feared insurgent group out to overthrow the ruling parties. In order to track down the rest of her group, including the never-seen leader who may also be Mei’s father, Jin goes undercover and breaks Mei out of jail in order to return her to the group with Lao following them in hot pursuit. It sounds like a simple plan in theory but there are the inevitable complications. Additional police, who know nothing of the plot Jin and Lao have cooked up, arrive and force Jin to go into battle against them so as not to blow his cover. Before long, it also transpires that Jin is not the only one who isn’t what he seems to be-nearly every character we see has an enormous secret or two. Most importantly, Jin finds himself succumbing to the charms of Mei, an action that will have serious repercussions for all involved.
In other words, the story is at least as complicated as the one in “Hero”. The difference here is that Zhang has employed a cleaner and more direct story structure this time around that allows his tale to have more of an effect on viewers. Unlike “Hero”, we actually develop a vested interest in Mei and Jin and how their various deceits affect each of them. By the end, we care enough about them that when Zhang gets to his wildly melodramatic climax, it contains a genuine emotional impact to go along with the razzle-dazzle. At times, the story does threaten to go out of control (the third act begins to get a little too convoluted for its own good) but there was never a time when I found myself less than fully engaged.

Beyond the narrative qualities of the film, what really makes “House of Flying Daggers” soar is the sheer spectacle of the piece. The cinematography by Xiaoding Zhao is so beautiful that it gives Christopher Doyle’s work on “Hero” a run for its money for the title of the year’s most gorgeous-looking film. All of the action scenes are jaw-droppers and three in particular are so amazing that they will go down as instant classics of the genre. One is a extensive fight atop the trees of a bamboo forest that outdoes even the similar battle in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Another is the climactic swordfight in a lovely, snow-covered field that is as intricately choreographed and executed as the finest ballet. The standout scene, however, is the moment early on when Zhang Ziyi plays what is known as the “Echo Game”; to say more wouldn’t begin to do justice to the sequence except to mention that once seen, it will never be forgotten. Of course, ravishing beauty in a Zhang Yimou film is nothing new-with the exception of Terrence Malick, I cannot think of another director working today who is as capable at creating poetry with a Panaflex. The difference here is that for once, Zhang has given his film a heart and brain to go along with its good looks.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10363&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/17/04 07:24:12
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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
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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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