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Shimian Maifu

House of Flying Daggers

China/Hong Kong 2004
produced by
EDKO, Elite Group, China Film Co-Production Corp, Beijing New Picture Film
directed by Zhang Yimou
starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi, Song Dandan
written by Zhang Yimou, Li Feng, Wang Bin, music by Shigeru Umebayashi, action choreography by Ching Siu-Tung

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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When - in 859 B.C. - the Tang dynasty has proved to be rotten & corrupt, the secret rebels' society, House of Flying Daggers has formed. It's now up to police officers Leo (Andy Lau) & Yin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to find & arrest &/or kill their new leader, in a mere 10 days. Problem is, nobody knows the new leader, & Leo & Yin's only lead is Mei (Zhang Ziyi), the blind new girl of the local brothel. So they make up a plan of Yin creating a commotion at the brothel which would eventually bring in the police & give Leo - after an impressive martial arts fight against her - a good excuse to arrest Mei.

But even when threatened with harsh torture, Mei is not willing to give Leo the whereabouts of the House of Flying Daggers ... which leads Yin & Leo the idea for another set-up. Yin, pretending to be a carefree outlaw, is to break Mei free & let her lead him to the rebels ...

At first the plan works beautifully, but after a while Yin & Mei start developing feelings for one another, which is a threat to the whole set-up ... but as if that wasn't enough, an imperial general has decided, over Leo's head, to intercept Mei's escape & kill her - even if that means spoiling Yin's undercover operation & kill him as well.

So, after several fights of life & death - that have forced him to kill many of his own men - Yin quits his job as police officer, but Mei - not knowing about him having been a police officer or not being one anymore - leaves him in order not to put his life into any more danger. He follows her anyhow, soon sees her engaged in mortal combat with the imperial army & tries to save her ... ponly to, like her, end up the soldiers' prisoner... which is when they are saved by the rebels from the House of Flying Daggers & brought to their leader - who turns out to be the Madam of the brothel Mei has worked at.

Yin's freedom however doesn't last long since the Madam has found out his identity as police officer & he is made a prisoner ... along with Leo, who was ambushed when secretly following Yin & Mei.

Leo is soon dragged off to his execution by the Madam herself ... but instead is freed by her as he has been a mole within the Imperial police for the last 3 years & is supposed to return to fullfill his mission to lure the Imperial army into a trap of the House of Flying Daggers. His last request though is to see Mei - who by the way is not blind - once again, his former lover he has left 3 years ago on his mission. But unfortunately Mei's feelings for Leo have cooled off & she's now in love with Yin. Leo, not wanting to accept that, tries to rape her, but is rewarded with a dagger in the back by Nia, the actual leader of the House of Flyibng Daggers. Then he is sent back to the Imperial troops, thwe dagger in the back only making him more authentic as Imperial soldier. Mei meanwhile is sent off to kill Yin ... but of course she can't, instead they make passionate love, after which she sends him away. He asks her to follow, which she refuses at first, but soon follows in a distance ... & receives a mortal dagger, thrown by Leo.

Yin, sure that Mei was following him, rides back to find only her dead body, & engages in mortal combat with Leo ... which none of them seems to be able to win - until Mei wakes up from the dead again (what ?) & threatens to throw the dagger in her body at Leo should he try to kill Yin ... which Yin can't let happen since if she pulled the dagger out of her body she would die of bloodloss ...

At the end though, Mai & Leo die anyway, while a griefing Yin is left behind.

 

This excursion of Zhang Yimou into the martial arts genre surpasses his previous efforts for Hero concerning the even more over-the-top fight-scenes &, compared to its rather cold & mechanic predecessor,  it also has a more involving, warm-hearted story. Plus Zhang Ziyi's grace at fighting - be it blind or seeing - & her remarkable range at acting do speak for the movie as well (& she is given much more room to prove both here than in Hero). 

On the other hand however, House of Flying Daggers doesn't always escape the kitsch trappings a love story of this kind (be it in the martial arts- or any other world) naturally has. Especially the final fight between Andy Lau & Takeshi Kaneshiro , with both of them laying their feelings for the (not yet) dead Zhang Ziyi bare, is - besides being far less inventive than all previous fight scenes - so cheesy it borders the ridiculous.

 

By the way, fans of Hong Kong cinema will notice more than a fleeting resemblance between this film and Andrew Lau's and Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs from 2002, which incidently also starred Andy Lau.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
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written by
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