House of Flying Daggers (2004)
Reviewed by: Arshadnm6 on 2005-04-22
Summary: Another Zhang Yimou epic, with more than disappointing results......
Towards the end of the Tang Dynasty, a rebel group known as the ‘House of Flying Daggers’ occupies the attentions of the Emperor's guard. Local police deputies, Jin (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro from ‘The Returner’, ‘Hero’ and ‘Dr. Wai in the “The Scripture with no Words”’) and Leo (played by Andy Lau from ‘The Duel’, ‘Yesterday once more’ and ‘A World without Thieves’) are in charge of exposing members of the secret society, and act quickly when rumours contend that a new girl at the Peony Pavilion brothel is in fact a member (the blind daughter of the head of the group) of the House of Flying Daggers. Deputy Jin goes undercover as a customer to capture stunningly gorgeous Mei (played by Zhang Ziyi from ‘Hero’, ‘Rush Hour 2’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’), who excels in offering entertainment as a dancer and singer. Both deputies arrest her for further questioning but fail to extract any useful information. Even the threat of torture does not force her to reveal any association that she may have with the House of Flying Daggers. This places both of the deputies in a predicament and due to the circumstances, deputy Leo suggests that they can extract the information more easily from Mei by simulating her escape, and agree upon deputy Jin acting as a sympathetic layabout for the cause of the House of Flying Daggers and to carry out her escape. After the make-believe events play out, deputy Jin adopts the name of Wind and flees with Mei whilst being pursued by other soldiers unaware of the highly secretive plan. Deputy Leo is also not so far away and awaits Deputy Jin’s use of his wayward charms on Mei until she leads him directly to the House of Flying Daggers. It’s a well-thought out plan with one major flaw. No-one ever imagined that Deputy Jin would realistically fall in love with Mei and betray both his allegiance and country.

On first impression, the set-pieces look simply amazing but as the movie develops it moves from these elegant surroundings to seen-before natural forestry, woodlands and hilly environments. The characters are very convincing, their development throughout the feature is clearly visible as well as the use of fluent mandarin to make them believable. The music score is traditional and unfortunately lacks any charisma. A more epic feel to the movie would have brightened things up a little compared to the gloomy, secluded and lonely outlook, however I think the feature tried to present itself otherwise. Furthermore, the wonderful high-budget special effects are presented in adequate locations and reasonable amount to cheer the mood up at scattered points. Although the acting is top-notch, the cast list is way too small with 4 barely recognisable actors only encompassing Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi and Song Dandan. It is also very seriously focussed on matters at hand which leave absolutely no space for any comedy whatsoever. Moreover, the action is well-done by action choreographer Ching Siu-Tung (as in ‘Hero’, ‘Shaolin Soccer’ and ‘The Moon Warriors’). However, this collaboration with director, producer and writer Zhang Yimou (from ‘2046’ and ‘Hero’) is not as successful and asks serious questions from both of them regarding their talents in martial arts movies. This movie deals with the serious issue of love and throws in some twists and no sub-plots and the mood of the film seems to bore at best after this concept is grasped by the viewer.

Although, this movie does not directly aim to be a full-on martial arts action movie, its genre selection against romance is questionable and its epic setting does not assist matters. Since Zhang Yimou has very little experience in the area of swordplay action movies, his inexperience is clearly visible and major talents such as Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro do not fill the cracks or corners. The predecessor ‘Hero’ is much more appealing to this production and its small scaling on matters in this movie was a mistake by Zhang Yimou. Also, Zhang Ziyi is still always the centrepiece (or encrusted Jewel) of this movie regardless of the presence of much higher-rated and experienced, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro. The reason for the success of ‘Hero’ can be explained by her presence in a minimal capacity and clichés of her being involved in intimate and revealing sexual scenes with other well-known big actors (with both Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro here!) as done time and again in several previous movies such as with Tony Leung in ‘Hero’ and with Chang Chen in ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ signifies her appeal to other directors and producers! Wong Jing may certainly find use for her after all and her involvement in all of these popular productions is purely based on generating a commercially-developed superstar with the right face but no real acting skills.

Overall, there is a big question mark over why so much hype and money is invested into productions starring Zhang Ziyi since she has nothing special to offer in any area (far from her idol and experienced Gong Li who deserved her place in this movie). This movie may have been a bigger success if less romance, no Zhang Ziyi and more swordplay had been included. It would be nice if Zhang Ziyi did not appear in a single internationally-renowned movie produced in China!!

Overall Rating: 6.8/10
Reviewer Score: 7