House of Flying Daggers
October 5, 2005
Fresh from the success of Hero (2002), Zhang Yimou and his current muse, Ziyi Zhang, reunited for another breathtaking martial arts epic, complete with some of the most impressive action sequences since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Like these movies, House of Flying Daggers (2004) features a tragic love story at its heart.
China, 859 A.D. The powerful Tang dynasty is in trouble. The Emperor is weak and his corrupt government is unable to control the land. Discontent is spreading and throughout the villages an underground organization forms, known as the House of Flying Daggers. It patterns itself as the Asian equivalent of Robin Hood and his Merry Men which, of course, endears them to the people but causes animosity amongst the local deputies.
Captain Leo (Lau) and Captain Jin (Kaneshiro) are two deputies who have ten days to find and kill the new leader of the Flying Daggers. This is no easy task as it took them three months to assassinate the last one. However, Leo has information that one of the showgirls at the new Peony Pavilion might be a member of the underground organization. So, Jin goes undercover and checks out the new dancer, Mei (Zhang), who is blind. She uses her blindness as an advantage so that her other heightened senses make her the top dancer at the Pavilion.
However, she’s a little too good and exposes herself as a very capable warrior. After a duel with Leo, she is imprisoned only for Jin to break her out in an attempt to gain her confidence. Jin plans to seduce Mei but against his better judgement (and the advice of Leo), he ends up falling in love with her. This sets events in motion that bring Jin, Leo and Mei in direct conflict with one another.
The three leads are excellent. Takeshi Kaneshiro, with his matinee idol good looks, uses his expressive face and sensitive eyes effectively as the undercover agent who falls for his target. The impossibly beautiful Ziyi Zhang essays another strong warrior woman performance but with a romantic streak beating in her heart. The relationship between Mei and Jin is the heart and soul of the movie. Andy Lau brings his customary intensity to the role of the no-nonsense deputy with a secret that will directly affect the fate of all three characters.
As he demonstrated in Hero, Yimou has fantastic eye for period detail and this film is no different with its colourful costumes and intricately detailed sets. The director eschews the heightened, primary colour scheme of Hero for a more naturalistic look with House of Flying Daggers. There is a predominantly earth tone look with warm colours like yellows, reds and browns. It is a nice contrast to the stylized action, which is impressively choreographed.
As he proved with Hero, Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers is so much more than a martial arts movie. It is also features characters that we grow to care about which only makes the film’s conclusion that much more tragic. This movie is just the right balance of style and substance, something that is very hard to pull of successfully with this kind of movie but so far Yimou is two for two. Hopefully, Zhang will continue to be his cinematic muse and they collaborate on future projects.
There is a subtitled audio commentary by Ziyi Zhang and Zhang Yimou. The director mentions that this movie was written the same time as Hero and that he wanted to shoot both films back to back but had to wait and see how Hero performed at the box office before given the go-ahead and make House of Flying Daggers. Yimou tends to dominate, talking about the look of the movie and the choreography of the action. Zhang does talk about all of the practicing she did for the dancing and action sequences. Fortunately, she already had six years of dance training which helped prepare for her intensive role.
“The Making of House of Flying Daggers” is a 45-minute look at how this film came together. Yimou talks about how his movie is much more than a martial arts picture, that it is also a tragic love story filled with emotion. He explains that the film’s main theme “Is about the fate of people.” This well-made featurette examines various aspects, such as story, themes and interviews with the actors who speak highly of Yimou.
“Creating the Visual Effects” is a brief featurette that shows various scenes as they looked originally and then with the CGI added.
Also included are “Storyboard Comparisons” for six scenes and allow one to watch the storyboards alongside the finished product.
“Costumes Gallery” offers a brief look at drawings of the outfits worn by various characters with the final product.
There is also a “Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery” with many on-the-set and on-location photos.
Finally, there is a music video for the film’s theme song, “Lovers,” that features footage of Kathleen Battle singing with clips from the movie.