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