Shi mian mai fu / House of Flying Daggers (2004) - An emotional drama carried by superb actors - 7/10 (20/07/16)
"House of Flying Daggers" is a very colourful, emotional and unique wu xia movie. While this film includes many beautifully staged fight scenes with daggers, swords and bare feet and hands, this film focuses much more on character development. While the beginning of the movie seems to focus on an investigation on a conspiracy including military interventions, mysterious rebel groups and underground agents, the second part of the film clearly focuses on a complicated love story with several twists and turns. In the end, this movie should be described as a romantic drama with occasional fighting scenes in a historically inspired but not authentic setting.
What really drives this drama is obviously the acting. Zhang Ziyi does an outstanding job as mysterious blind dancer who is suspected to be the daughter of a deceased leader of a rebel group called House of Flying Daggers. This intriguing character has many secrets and it's never exactly certain what this character wants, feels or even is until the very end. This character alone is worth watching this movie. The two male leading characters are also great. On one side, there is police officer Jin who is going through significant changes. In the beginning, he is carefree, rude and wild but he progressively discovers himself over the course of this movie. On the other side, there is his friend, the more experienced officer Leo who is much more serious, clever and careful but who becomes more and more emotional throughout the movie. It's almost as if the two characters were slowly switching their attitudes throughout the movie. The entire story revolves around these three characters from the mysterious start to a dramatic finish.
Sadly, the potentially intriguing conflict between Tang Dynasty leaders supported by the military and police and the mysterious rebel group House of Flying Daggers supported by undercover agents is never resolved in this movie. The entire film builds up a lot of tension between the two groups and both sides prepare for a massive fight towards the end of the film but that ultimate conflict is never shown. Even though the drama around the three main characters is really intriguing, it's disappointing that this part of the story isn't told. The movie feels unfinished in my opinion.
Aside from the stories and the acting performances, the movie obviously convinces with an authentic soundtrack, charming costumes and colourful settings that are typical for director Zhang Yimou. Especially the use of colours, natural landscapes and seasons is meaningful and philosophical. Still, this movie doesn't have the same depth, elegance and significance as Zhang Yimou's previous masterpiece "Hero". The fighting scenes are always entertaining but clearly not among the best in the wu xia genre.
In the end, you will admire this film if you expect a romantic drama with gripping fighting scenes in an intriguing context which is carried by three superb leading actors. If you expect a gripping wu xia film with a clear definition of protagonists and antagonists, stunning fighting scenes and a grand finale, you might be disappointed. This movie is one of the most intense Chinese dramas since the beginning of the new millennium but only an average martial arts film.« Xue di zi / The Guillotines (2012) - A modern twist on the wu xia genre - 6/10 (20/07/16)Ying xiong / Hero (2002) - An intellectually, philosophically and visually challenging masterpiece - 9/10 (20/07/16) »
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