House of Flying Daggers (2004) Poster

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peijin10 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
One thing that people often overlook is how different the viewpoints of westerners or non- Chinese and Chinese are when watching the same film. Zhang's Hero was panned by a lot of Chinese film critics, and HOFD has been the target of several withering attacks as well, by man on the street as well as film critic.

There are some nuances to the film that only Chinese viewers can appreciate--such as the dialogue, which in translation might seem perfectly reasonable, but which makes Chinese people laugh. We've seen enough costume dramas and period pieces, and have good enough sense of our history, to know what is believable and what is not. The way they wrote the dialogue, which is literary Chinese, but not quite, came off just hokey, especially when coming out of the mouths of Kaneshiro and Andy Lau. It's not just their mandarin is not what we are used to, but perhaps because in our minds they are part of pop culture, and thus you get some of the Keanu reeves doing Shakespeare kind of effect. It just falls short.

And this is not to mention how unbelievable the love story is. I can't fathom why people consider this top-notch acting. The most popular actors are not necessarily the best actors--there are plenty of underrated Chinese character actors out there that could have burned a hole through any of these roles. Somehow, some people believe that just because set up the right premises--love, honor, loyalty, etc etc that will you automatically achieve something profound.

Chinese people love martial arts and wuxia novels to be sure, but many of the people I talked to found Zhang Ziyi's xiao mei character dying and then seemingly reviving to be just silly. I would argue that in a movie that is patently a "fantasy" movie of sorts that you have to be fair and suspend disbelief, and they do say that she never pulled out the dagger in her heart, which is why she could stay alive long enough to utter some more hokum.

I also agree with others that a final showdown between the House of Flying Daggers and the government police would have provided more of a sense of "closure" for the audience. I say this because whenever you have a premise like the end of a Chinese dynasty, outlaw groups attempting the overthrow of the government, you've got a great set up for a story, especially it is precisely the end of eras and beginning of new eras (dynasties) which capture the Chinese imagination. In the chaos of a crumbling order, men are men, both the best of heroes and worst of villains is likely to appear. The bonds that tie human beings together are strained, put through the crucible of a cruel death for being on the wrong side.

Which is why it would have been nice if this so called romance or love story could have embedded in the larger framework of a story of the battle between the mysterious House of Flying Daggers and the remnants of the tang Dynasty.

one more note: the whole spy, double double crossing thing is getting kind of old, considering infernal affairs and all the other new cop movies coming out of Hong Kong. I see that cinematic ally, there are always more CG effects to use, to bring us into the wuxia world...but intellectually, HOFD shows that these mainstream Chinese films have already pumped the well entirely dry.
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Following on from HERO with another visually arresting feature...
tpr00720 November 2004
After absolutely loving 'Hero', I couldn't wait for Zhang Yimou's latest Wuxia Pien feature to arrive on DVD. After watching it, I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed, as it is another sumptuous, stylistic feature, which deserves all the accolades it is likely to receive.

The plot of the film is told in a more linear narrative when compared to that of 'Hero', but that is not to say it is any more straightforward. Set in the Tang Dynasty, the basic premise is nothing to write home about, featuring government officials on the trail of an underground rebel alliance 'The House of Flying Daggers'. However, there is enough characterisation and depth to hold your attention, while the (sometimes predictable) plot twists keep you guessing. Unfortunately, there is nothing entirely new about this story and it's probably familiar ground to fans of the wuxia genre. Nevertheless, it flows at a decent pace and is punctuated with enough stylistic action sequences that the 2-hour running time is quickly exhausted.

As with Yimou's impressive previous feature, Tony Ching Siu-tung takes over the action direction, producing another sterling performance. In my opinion, he is currently the top fight choreographer around after spending so many years being considered second fiddle to the likes of Yuen Wo-ping and Sammo Hung; he now deserves to be considered above them on his current output. In this instance, much of the overt stylisation evident in Hero is played down in favour of more grounded, natural martial artistry. There is still plenty of wire work and a spattering of CGI to aid the sequences, however, it is plain to see that much of the action displayed is a mix of genuine swordplay and actual technique. All the performers acquit themselves well considering none of them are formally trained in martial arts – especially Zhang Ziyi who performs impressively from start to finish.

As you would expect from a Zhang Yimou film, the visuals are majestic, with primary colours and panoramic landscapes making up much of what we see. Unfortunately, many people do not seem to take to this artistic approach, and will label the film another case of style over substance. I would disagree, as I believe it contains plenty of both with a strong cast, interesting characters and high quality action to provide the foundation for the kind of bold, sumptuous visuals, which are rare to find in modern film.

Overall, I personally prefer 'Hero' but know of plenty who would disagree. As a result, I recommend it as a definite purchase to any fan of films from this genre.
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A feast for the senses, a fully satisfying cinematic experience.
budmassey20 April 2005
Shi Mian Mai Fu belongs to a growing body of work that embodies a clearly Asian aesthetic packaged just as clearly for Western consumption. It is no coincidence that, each time I paused the DVD for whatever reason, the still image on the screen was as beautiful as any classic wood block print by Hiroshige or Hokusai. Xiaoding Zhao's elegant cinematography imbues every scene with haunting beauty. Think Tak Fujimoto times ten, with no disrespect meant to Fujimoto, who shoots Western movies and still manages to inject his refined visual sense into such great films as Silence of the Lambs and Sixth Sense.

Director Yimou Zhang's work in Hero was more epic, more heroic, but SMMF has a more refined sense of story. The cast, the scenery, the music, including vocal performances by the legendary Kathleen Battle; all elements conspire brilliantly to convey subtle and nuanced meaning in moments. The story, as do all good stories of this genre, revolves around a delicate interplay of love, betrayal, deception and heroism of many different kinds, and, oh yes, those stunning ballets of combat layered with evocative sounds and effects.

In a nutshell, the plot goes something like this. A beautiful blind showgirl is captured as a spy. Her captors conspire to trick her into leading them to her leader. Along the way, both hunter and quarry become entangled in a web of subterfuge and deception. Add in a beautifully tragic romantic story line, again, as all such movies must have, and never forget that the essence of all truly great tragedy is inevitability.

This movie is also known as Ambush From Ten Sides, and in that more literal translation of its title you will find its essence. A worthy successor to Hero, though not as magnificent as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, in which Ziyi Zhang gives the performance of a lifetime and the one against all her other roles will be judged, and in this case, fall short, House of Flying Daggars is nevertheless a feast for the senses and a fully satisfying cinematic experience.
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A pageantry of color, skill and story
moviechick101019 October 2004
There may be some unanswered questions at the end of the movie and yet I'd watch this film over and over again just to witness the use of costumes, the martial arts skill and how they blend to make a very palatable story. Those who are trashing this film do so senselessly. The films' lovebirds are throughly attractive but not at all bland and you root for them because they appear to belong together; they have a natural chemistry which can be difficult for two actors to have. As can be the case in Asian films, like the recent hit "Hero", the costumes and the use of color are important characters all by themselves. So many elements come together beautifully that what's also ironic is the that film could easily be a stage play. I enjoyed this immensely. Just awe-inspiring!
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Almost a great film
Axel-930 October 2004
Zhang Yimou set a new benchmark for martial arts movies with Hero. Visually both inventive and dazzling, whilst having a strong thematic thread, it still managed to kick ass, with energetic fight sequences. He continues in the same vein with House of Flying Daggers, with love and romance replacing Hero's chivalry and honour. It is at times as blisteringly exciting and exquisite to view, but there are a few problems.

Set in a similar time to Hero, the plot revolves around the mysterious House of Flying Daggers, a group of assassins leading a rebellion of sorts, against the rulers of their land. News has reached the local military captain Leo (Andy Lau) that the leader of the House can be found plying their trade in the local brothel. Sensing that this could be the key to ending their resistance he sends one of his men, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), to infiltrate the establishment posing as a customer. This soon leads him to the beautiful blind dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi), who may just be the daughter of the assassinated former leader of the House. What follows is his journey with edit her, through forests and meadows, as he vies to gain her trust, all the while intent on leading the army to their destination in an attempt to discover the leader of the House.

The plot is actually far more complicated than my short synopsis could come close to. We are treated to a twisty turny adventure, punctuated with set pieces of (excuse the tired terminology) balletic grace. Yimou sets a number of scenes within symmetrically perfect backgrounds, the picture set up like a work of art. We find ourselves in a dance hall encircled with drums, where the camera moves with a sense of fluidity, as though part of the dance, as we see Mei play a game of "echoes" with the Captain. Each time he hits a drum with a flicked nut, she follows, striking it with her flowing robes. The scene has a steady tempo, finally hitting a crescendo as the whole bowl is flung, nuts flying everywhere like missiles striking every drum. The sound of each strike reverberates like thunder.

For me the other set pieces never quite match the "echo" dance for majesty, rhythm or look. We get to see numerous showdowns between, with Mei and Jin taking on the soldiers that chase them, all the while with Jin trying to maintain his cover. The fights very much feel like a dance, and are filled with POV shots of arrows, sharpened bits of wood and of course flying daggers. I thought this camera trick felt overused, it looks good, but eventually started to feel tired as yet another dagger is seen boomeranging into action.

As events reach a climax, the plot gets pretty messy, as revelation after revelation is thrown about. In contrast to Hero's coda, where the action became about what's doing right for the good of the whole country, House of Flying Daggers has one of a more personal nature. It never quite rings true, there just isn't the emotion on display for this to work. The final act is somewhat botched, with a "it's over, no it isn't" feel to it, which caused a few "no ways" to be uttered in my vicinity. It is yet another gloriously shot scene, but we'd already seen some extraordinary moments. I felt it seemed to be reaching a more natural conclusion, and with a bit of editing a tighter last half hour would've made this a classic.

As it stands House of Flying Daggers is a fine movie, never quite as good as Hero, and probably behind Crouching Tiger too, and maybe it goes on a bit too long, but it's far superior to most of the formulaic actioners Hollywood produces. Out of ten, I'd give it an eight.
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Beautiful Romantic Adventure
claudio_carvalho12 November 2005
In the Ninth Century, the Tang Dinasty in China is weak and corrupt, and an army of rebels called "The House of the Flying Daggers" fights against the government military forces, and steals from the rich to give to the poor people. Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), two captains of the government army, plot a scheme against the rebels using the blind dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi) to approach their leaders, but their love for Mei leads them to a tragedy.

"Shi mian mai fu" is a beautiful romantic adventure, with amazing clothing, cinematography, colors, music score, fight and martial arts choreography and special effects. The story begins like an action movie, and ends like a tragic romance. Visually, it is an impressive masterpiece, the story is also very nice, Zhang Ziyi is amazingly gorgeous and I really liked this movie a lot. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): "O Clã das Adagas Voadoras"("The Clan of the Flying Daggers")
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As beautiful as a dream, and just as fraught with logic problems
Xiayu28 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Beautiful and poetic, the first two-thirds of this film are sensational.

Murder, revenge, love, betrayal - these are all tired by-words that bounce off a potential movie-goers brain when we see them in advertisements. If that's your response too, this time I urge you to ignore it, because, final score notwithstanding, there is so much to be savoured and enjoyed in just looking at the screen.

Zhang Yimou, once a photographer and cinematographer himself, has an exquisite eye. Colour is a recurring feature of his films, with a life and story of it's own to tell, and this film is textured almost to the point of gluttony. To call it breathtaking is not overstating it. But unlike the deliberate stylisation of Hero, the settings here are much earthier. You can feel each flower and blade of grass, and marvel at the vivid detail in the costumes. It's wildly sensuous on a visual level. The drama, as we have seen from Zhang before, is heightened by the moodiness of the weather, and emotions are expressed through the changing of seasons.

The combat sequences are inventively executed, giving the violence an uneasy beauty. As is often the case in this genre, the fights might astound you with the precision and power of the choreography, but they keep you at a distance from the pain and injury. Not so in the final showdown between the characters Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau Tak Wah). This is a man's fight, brutal, bloody, messy and decidedly ungraceful. When Leo raises his sword to kill Jin, he means it. His anger is so ferocious that it can only be represented by a drastic change in season. Mid fight, Autumn becomes Winter, showing that the friendship these men once had has gone irreparably from cool tolerance to icy, implacable fury. It is a feature of the novels from which many of these stories are taken, that the martial arts skill of the protagonists is so great they are actually able to harness the power of the elements to use to their own advantage. This may or may not be the case here; no-one benefits from the snow and sleet, for all, as Shakespeare once put it, are punished.

However, when the melodrama hits, the rhapsody is seriously tainted. In any movie, some suspension of disbelief is a given, but when it's suspended over a gaping chest wound and under three feet of snow, and it's already hanging by the thinnest of threads, it becomes comical instead of dramatic. My friend and me both wailed with disbelief every time Mei (Zhang Ziyi) was resurrected towards the end (Don't tell me she's getting up AGAIN!??). Had she died the first time she was stabbed, and actually stayed dead, the effectiveness of the movie would have been increased by 90%. Unfortunately, some of the high marks earned were lost by the stupidity of this plot-point.

Further, the dialogue at key moments was just cheesy and embarrassing. I thought perhaps it was a translation problem, but my friend, who is from Mainland China, assured me it was in equally poor taste in Mandarin. Such a pity, because it could've been salvaged by some ruthless script doctoring.

First two thirds: 7/10 Last third: 3/10 Score out of 10 = 5.5, but I'll round it up to 6.

(As an aside, Andy Lau's Mandarin was an achievement in itself. I understand it was dubbed later to achieve the maximum correct pronunciation, but at least it was dubbed by him and not another actor. After watching around half of his hundred or so movies, all in Cantonese, it was a great pleasure to see him take on the task and do so well. My friend would not believe it was him, it was so good.)
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Without a doubt, Hollywood is going down...
AurumStarFinder22 January 2005
I have never, ever seen a film that the West has ever created that can top Chinese cinema in this form, with the exception possibly being Lord of the Rings. I truly applaud Oriental taste. I can't count the number of times I have completely forgotten that I've actually got my own physical form while watching films like House of Flying Daggers, but I can count how many times that's happened during Western films: zero.

For those of you who have no taste I beg you: but aside your views on gravity-defying fight scenes and subtitles. Just remember that this is something called FANTASY. It isn't real, no matter how much you wish it to be. It's called cinema: you can do whatever the hell you like in film. I don't complain when you've got aliens that spurt out your chest. I don't complain when the dead rise from their graves. I don't complain about the lack of reason behind the ideas that aliens would have less intelligence than humans or that the living dead would harbour grudges against the really living. I complain when it just looks simply uninspiring and frankly visually boring.

So, Zhang Yimou, please bring on more heroes and flying daggers
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Fascinating movie with extraordinary photography and color
ma-cortes9 January 2006
China 859 AD,the once-mighty Tang dynasty is in decline.His corrupt government no longer controls the land,unrest sweeps the country.Village by village an underground alliance forms the ¨House of flying daggers¨.Based near the imperial capital ¨ The House¨ moves in the shadows.Stealing from the rich to give to the poor,they earn the support of the people.At the same time they are feared and hated by their bitter rivals,the local deputies. Mei(Zhang Zyi) is a gorgeous ,exotic, and rare beauty dancer, she's an intrepid and blind warrior(as Zaitochi,the blind samurai).She's suspicious of pertaining to revolutionary group.Two officials(Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau) are assigned their deadly mission : capture her and inquire where the band is hidden. Now the protagonists pull off a dangerous journey and they'll fight against warriors grasped to trees,impressive combats and battles of incredible scenarios. The same director¨Hero¨,Zhang Yimou, and the starring of¨Hero¨and ¨Crouching Tiger and hidden dragon¨,Zhang Zyi(memories of a geisha),bring us a new exciting film. Zhang Yimou makes the ultimate martial arts masterpiece.Spellbound struggles images illuminate the full-blown adventures of trio protagonist. Colorful chop-socky big budget with battles stunningly staged and groundbreaking production design. Eye-popping cinematography is specially reflected on breathtaking outdoors and luxurious interiors and overwhelming costumes. Fascinating gowns by Japan designer Emi Wada based on Tang dynasty. Riveting and atmospheric score with oriental sounds by Umebayashi. The motion picture was nominated to Academy award 2005 to the best cinematography and nominated to Golden Globe to the best foreigner film. The film is dedicated to the memory of Anita Moui. Rating :Astounding and awesome.
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The Colors of wind are the thoughts of the heart
jmbwithcats6 February 2005
From Yimou Zhang, the director of Jet Li's Hero and Raise the Red Lantern, comes a spectacular tale about honor, and love.

House of Flying Daggers is the gripping, touching, and visually spectacular tale of two people, caught in a Romeo and Juliet story, and the nation at war they must fight together.

It is near the end of the Tang Dynasty era, and The Captain Jin (Kaneshiro) and Leo (Lau) tangle with Mei (Zhang), a dancer suspected of having ties to a revolutionary faction known as the House of Flying Daggers. Enraptured by her, the deputies concoct a plan to save her from capture, and Jin leads her north in what becomes a perilous journey into the unknown.

The dialogue, beautifully bright costumes, and landscapes will take you on a wonderful journey. A journey of dance, music, and beautiful words.
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Are you joking?
acjmar25 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Normally, I am a pretty generous critic, but in the case of this film I have to say it was incredibly bad. I am stunned by how positive most reviews seem to be.

There were some gorgeous shots, but it's too bad they were wasted on this sinkhole of a movie. It might have worked if "Daggers" was purely an action flick and not a romance, but unfortunately the film is built around an empty love triangle. There is no chemistry between either of the couples, whatever exists between Mei and her men seems to be more lust than love, and for the most part the dialogue is just silly. This may be just a problem with translation, but the frequent usage of the word "flirt" in particular reminded me of 8th grade, not head-over-heels, together forever, worth-dying-for love; I also felt we were beat over the head with the wind metaphor. The audience is given very little about the characters to really care about, and therefore very little emotional investment in the movie as a whole. I was wishing for a remote control to fast forward, I was slumped in my seat ready to snore, but mostly I just cringed a lot.


Now, the icing on the cake. Or rather, adding insult to injury. The ending was truly one of the most horrible, laughable ones I have ever seen. The boys are having their stag fight and screaming and yelling and hacking at each other. Oh, and then it starts to snow. Randomly. Oh, and then Mei (dagger embedded in heart) suddenly pops up out of the weeds. Then she throws a dagger that seems to take about 5 minutes to reach it's destination, even slowing conveniently midscreen to hit a tiny blood droplet. Wow, cool.

Well, then Mei dies finally I guess because she threw the dagger that was lodged in her chest and bled to death. Jin sings, sobs, holds her body close, screen goes blank. I, and the people surrounding me, are chuckling. Not a good sign.

Visually stunning, but ultimately a failure.
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Best Movie of 2004
elcopy6 December 2004
I guess having this movie out just a few months after the U.S. release of "Hero" was more than many moviegoers could chew (and you can see it in the reviews here). That takes away from a fantastic experience. Every frame of this film is exquisite. It was breathtaking scene after breathtaking scene. There are enough plot twist, double crossings and romance to keep the scenes between the action sequences interesting. Ziyi Zhang plays her best role of what I call now a trilogy (which includes "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Hero" and now "House Of Flying Daggers" -the best of the three). It's not Yimou Zhang's best movie, that'd be "Raise The Red Lantern", but it's proof this director is on a roll. Go see this movie without worry.
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High on flash, low on flesh
ohstatic27 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
All of the reviews have rightly stated that "House of Flying Daggers" is one of 2004's most beautiful movies. No one will disagree that the level of stylization and composition is much higher than your standard fare. However, halfway through the film it becomes clear that the scriptwriters hurriedly pulled together a cliché-ridden story in order to facilitate getting to the next big fight or beautiful set piece. By the end of the film everyone is a double agent, everyone must choose between love or duty, and if anyone is outnumbered in a fight, they'll be saved by a barrage of timely projectile weapons hurled from off-screen. All of the actors do a fine job with the material, yet it is the material itself that is so tedious and convoluted that one simply stops caring.
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It's An Action Flick! It's A Love Story! It's A Date Movie!
noralee11 December 2004
"House of Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu)" shows they can make movies like that anymore. This is a grand action love story that fully captures the eye and the heart, the pulse and ears. Yes, an action flick can be a date movie!

While building on the Wu-Xia tradition of literature and film that's as much historical fantasy as any rollicking Dumas adventure or the "Lord of the Rings" films, director Yimou Zhang incorporates elements we have seen elsewhere into a freshly thrilling experience.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" had a more sophisticated plot, but this one's twisty enough in the ever more duplicitous spies/hunter and the hunted vein.

It has a lot of plot similarities to another Ziyi Zhang-starrer, the drama of 1930's war intrigue "Purple Butterfly (Zi hudie)," minus the political lessons.

From Japanese films there's borrowing from the "Zatôichi: The Blind Swordsman" legends as well as almost as much from Kurasawa's "Hidden Fortress" that Lucas did for the "Star Wars" saga, and then borrowing forest fighting imagery from Lucas to an open meadow as magical as in "The Wizard of Oz."

"The Matrix" movies may have wowed us more with "bullet time" plus there is a lot of following arrow trajectories as in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," not coincidentally as the titular rebels are stealing from the rich to benefit the poor, but the context of the weapons for Siu-Tung Ching's martial arts choreography are more varied and emotional.

Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" is only a bit more over the top than the beautiful production design and elaborate costumes in this Peony Pavilion, but every inch of the screen and soundtrack is as operatically filled and should be experienced on a large screen.

The director's own "Hero (Ying xiong)" is more beautiful as this is missing cinematographer Christopher Doyle's aesthetics but Xiaoding Zhao's cinematographical debut captures a breathtaking variety of landscapes in straightforward storytelling. The sound design is as important, with lots of heavy breathing from tension and exertion.

While it's a much smaller cast than sweeping epics like "Dr. Zhivago," "Titanic" or "Gone With the Wind," it has that swept away feel of a love story amidst larger forces, even if for much of the movie its the force of nature of the geography of Ukraine and a bamboo forest national park, which forcefully reminded me of an elementary school unit my son's class did on how bamboo is stronger than steel.

"Warriors of Heaven and Earth (Tian di ying xiong)" showed that spectacular scenery can be a backdrop for a pedestrian movie. But like "Hero," the enormous canvas is background for zooming in on three enormously charismatic actors in a passionate and unexpectedly tricky love triangle.

Ziyi Zhang needs to watch someone other than Mary Pickford, especially some Susan Sarandon or Jeanne Moreau, to learn that there's more levels in projecting romance than smoldering ratcheting right up to jump his bones, but one has to make some allowances as this is the first as sexy as this Chinese movie and the romance does recall pre-Code Hollywood. Her beautiful shoulders are used quite provocatively.

Takeshi Kaneshiro is ravishingly captivating but Andy Lau gives him a run for your heart in surprises that revolve around the unusual plot point of a woman's willingness being paramount, which is refreshing and adds suspense and emotion to the story.

The closing Kathleen Battle song is a bit over the top, as the music throughout verges on schmaltzy as it shamelessly reinforces what you see and hear, but you are left gasping if not weeping at the end anyway.
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Skip this movie. Wait for video, buy, then burn it.
FreddyShoop16 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I was very surprised how bad this movie was. Nice cinematography and beautiful landscapes can only take the movie so far. I was hoping for a rerun of Hero, but this is much, much worse.

This movie is why kung fu movies got a bad reputation in the first place. No believable characters (even within the cartoonish world of kung fu movies, these characters are ridiculous), virtually no plot, and ridiculous story twists.

This movie is so boring and so frustrating because it reminds you of trying to play a make believe game with a child. Every time you think your silly battle makes some sense, they invent another ridiculous twist that makes no sense ("Ah ha, you only think you've got me with your super powers and 10,000 ray guns, but I ate my vitamins laced with plutonium and teflon, so your ray guns don't work and I'm invulnerable to your super powers....tap tap no trade backs infinity PLUS one.") Children can continue with this lunacy, because they don't really care whether anyone is listening because they are having a fun time. However, for the VIEWER, especially the adult viewer, this long movie is worse than a bout with bad gas.

SPOILERS AHEAD Note to kung fu movie makers, (a) if you have a knife in your back it hurts unless you are on PCP, in which case your kung fu is not strong, (b) if you repeatedly fall on your back, which has a knife in it, it will hurt more and do more damage, unless it is a fake prop, (c) when you get stabbed in the heart with a knife, you die, especially in ancient china where there isn't a Kaiser Permanente around the corner, (d) kung fu fights don't last for hours while 3 feet of snow falls, and (e) sometimes it is worth while explaining your characters and their motivations.

In any event, go watch Hero again, because at least within its own little world it is comprehensible.
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Highly overrated piece of commercial dreck
Thomas_Neville_Servo27 September 2004
After just 15 minutes into this film, I began to miss Zhang Yimou's earlier, more weighty films that looked at the politics and society of China from unique perspectives. His turn to martial arts films was a serious misstep in my humble opinion. Hero was his worst film since Operation Cougar, with a needlessly complex story and acting more wooden than that found in a John Agar film. Shi Mian Mai Fu is no different. As an American who has been studying Chinese films for a few years now (and understands and can speak some Mandarin), I'm sure my opinion is different from many others as I'm coming from a different background. SMMF, like Hero, is not really a traditional a kung fu film, and it's certainly not a wuxia pian film. There are no sword & sorcery or chivalry elements here. This is a completely different vehicle than infinitely more watchable films such as A Chinese Ghost Story (all 3), The Butterfly Murders, Green Snake, et al. While those all featured charismatic leads who looked like they were actually enjoying what they do, SMMF features bland, and sometimes laughable, dialogue combined with cardboard acting. Zhang Ziyi plays a blind person about as well as Ben Affleck. There's an air of superiority with this film that's really quite insulting. It takes itself so seriously, it just becomes a huge joke by the end. All the actors look as though this is the most important piece of celluloid in history, they destroy any chance of actually conveying emotions, and the complete humorlessness of it really makes you wonder if Zhang Yimou was making a film per se, or simply a showcase (i.e. an "ego booster") for Zhang Ziyi. The camera is literally making out with her face and she gets sexually assaulted not once but twice in the film. Her acting range really hasn't extended past her ability to play a naive "w"itch. She's so concentrated on her acting, she comes across as cold and lifeless, as though she's reading her lines from a notecard. It's so funny to hear American critics and film people (like the completely clueless Quentin Tarantino) call this film a masterpiece. I guess if they see a bunch of Asian actors on screen looking really important while flying through a bamboo forest, they're tricked into thinking it's brilliant film-making. Ching Siu Tung's choreography, while still retaining his trademark style, editing, and postures, lacks the vitality and originality of his earlier films like A Chinese Ghost Story, Dragon Inn, and Duel to the Death. Sadly to say, the wirework in this film is really subpar, and if there's subpar/obvious wirework, then you probably shouldn't have filmed it at high speed. The same goes for the special effects which have a distinct B-movie feel to them. Beans, daggers, bowls, arrows, swords, and other random objects fly through the air (after being thrown) with no regard for logic, turning, climbing, and banking as though there's a little pilot inside. I know that logic doesn't really hold a place in stylized Chinese martial arts films, but if you don't want to induce a mass amount of giggling from your audience, then you should probably work on your compositing a bit more. Mass melodrama, unintentionally funny dramatic moments, boring fight scenes, really uninspired plot twists are what await you with Shi Mian Mai Fu. It's obvious that Zhang Yimou is no longer making movies for Chinese audiences. This is meant to crack into the Western market just as CTHD did. After watching Hero and SMMF, I've come to the conclusion that if Zhang Yimou wants to make Hollywood films, he's definitely off to the right start. SMMF is basically The Phantom Menace of Chinese martial arts films. And I thought Hero was bad.
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Meticulously crafted
harry_tk_yung12 January 2005
Treading merrily along the path of Hollywoodization (pardon my expression) started in Ying Xiong, director Zhang Yimou turned out another equally meticulously crafted product, Shi Mian Mai Fu, which was showcased to the world in the 2004 Cannes 'out of competition' category.

Meticulously crafted, SMMF starts by giving the audience an exceptional feast of the ear, putting them in a blind person's POV (or maybe I should say POH, 'H' for hearing). The duel of drums scene is brilliant. As if that is not enough, we are treated to another feast of sounds, this time the thundering hoofs and clashing weapon in the pursuit and attack of the blind girl.

Even more meticulously crafted is the color display. A top-notch cinematographer (Yellow Earth (1984)) before a director, Zhang does not appear to be able to tolerate anything that falls short of atheistic perfection. Although not as blatantly as in Ying Xiong, he exhibits here a color display that is equally dazzling. The landscape in the first couple of scenes is in mellowed brown, yellow and pale green. Then come the lush green hills and the dreamy world of the bamboo forest. Towards the end, we have a white birth forest and, for no apparent reason, are given a frame of only two seconds of a fiery stretch of fall colors. In the finale, the ominous dark clouds eventually produce a winter wonderland, to receive profuse splashes of crimson blood.

Crafted sight and sound is great, but over-crafted script and story is where SMMF falls down. In the show that I attended, the audience burst out in a clearly audible expression of mirth where none was intended by the script. I do recognize that this was due in part to the fact that they know Andy Lau too well. But then, some of the things were thrust at the audience so abruptly that I think their reaction is forgivable.

In a nutshell, Flying Dagger is no Crouching Tiger as Zhang Yimou lacks the heart, soul and sensitivity of Ang Lee. I remember watching a TV interview of Zhang a couple of years ago, when he intimated something to the effect that making movie is a market-driven affair and if the (global) market wants it, he'll make it. Well, he is at least honest about the whole thing and he did make Ying Xiong. But I do miss director Zhang's earlier work: Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, Qiu Ju Goes to Court, Living, Not One Less, My Father and Mother.

One final point of no particular consequence. Shi Mian Mai Fu (literal translation 'Ambushed on Ten Sides') is the best known piece of music for the lute-like pipa. I notice that three or four bars from the piece are featured in the background music, at the point when the blind girl's true identity is revealed.

Thank goodness it didn't get the Golden Globe....would have been SUCH an embarrassment if it did.
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The reverse of the Hero philosophy? Very entertaining, but flawed
Boris-5713 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
The film has the problem of following on the heels of Hero, of course. Still, whereas Hero took Zhang a good 6 years to write and cast it into its final form, this was not the case here. So it's obvious that this was in no way meant (as deliberately as Hero) to be as huge an artistic statement. And why should it. A film's merit is seldom measured uniquely by its artistic merit, fortunately. But more is lacking. I'll keep it "short" and sum it up (does contain ***SPOILERS*** about the ending!). Sorry about the length.

1) The story is the reverse of Hero in a way. In Hero, the whole point was that the individual's want pales in the light of the Big Plan, an entirely eastern premise. In this one, it's the western romantic tradition of the individual's desires being more important than the Cause (they both betray their Cause). In other words, it's your classical Romeo & Juliet / Tristan & Iseult kinda thing. This is mirrored in the way the story is told - in this one, the historic backdrop, though suggested to be important by the opening text, is of no importance whatsoever. The problem is, he doesn't pull it off without problems - why? Well:

2) The (love)story's thin. Despite the classical, but rather well-placed twists in the overall intrigue, the lovers do little more than going back and forth. First he wants her, she does not let him; then she wants him, but he does not let her and leaves; then he returns, to find out he cannot have her. Than it becomes clear that in fact he can, because she does want him... all well-fit in the overarching story, but still too much. So finally IT happens, and they part, then she goes back, he goes back, all only to end in tragedy (see 4). You get it, there's a whole lot going on, just to make the one point: the love each other. Why? because there wasn't much other script material? because the actors couldn't pull off more depth? I don't know.

3) The cinematography is great, but a) not as stunning as in Hero (plus, most of it is filmed in Ukraine, not China!), and b) he's showing off! Something I cannot stand. I mean, the first half hour serves to show us what an absolutely stunning filmmaker we got here. He begins at the top, instead of slowly building magnificent scene on magnificent scene as in Hero. So, whereas in Hero I slowly became aware that I was watching stuff that would get stuck in my mind forever, here during the first 30' I was thinking, come on mate, I know you're good, get started on the story. Although, if I were him, I would be tempted as well to point my camera at Ziyi Zhang and hold it there...

4) The inconsequences! It's cool to have twists, and lead the public on, but don't take them for fools! I don't care about impossible stuff, but keep the internal logic. Why, if they knew each other, do Andy Lau and Ziyi Zhang have such a terrible fight at the arrest. I can understand the drum thing - they wanted to have some fun and he had to 'prove' her 'guilty' - but why the dim-mak (pressure-point) stuff and subsequent drowning, when there's just the two of them? Other example (might be the subs): why do the supposed Flying Daggers leader and Andy Lau keep up the game when they're out of the hut's reach? If he's one of them, why does she ask him "do you have anything to say?" and why does he answer "you're not the real leader" - If he's a FD guy, this is obvious! There's others...

5) Now, the end. It's like a Tchaikovsky symphony - the bleedin' thing just doesn't end! I thought the film was still very strong when Ziyi gets struck by Lau's dagger. But then it comes - she 'dies' no less than four (4!) times. I mean, come on! I know the idea of only being dead when you pull the weapon OUT is commonplace in the east (so I can live with the idea that a dagger in the heart doesn't kill her), but the characters themselves shouldn't be surprised! Furthermore, the reasons why she 'revives' are three times IDENTICAL, i.e. to prove her love for him, something she already proved abundantly, and to which one last illustration would have sufficed. But no - the first time she regains life, it's to warn her lover. The second time it's to defend him a the cost of her life, and the last time she re-opens her eyes (the audience was already laughing at that point) it's again to say something she's said several times before. The movie would have benefited from just the fight and then as an apotheosis the one resurrection where she pulls out the dagger (a powerful moment in itself). Same comment for the numerous times the One Tear is shed... The number of One Tear-shots, To-and-Fro's (see 1), and Dying Moments made it seem like I was watching one (beautiful) point being made over and over again, like I was a romantic illiterate.

Plus, I might me really picking here, but I thought the fight sequences were nowhere near as impressive as the ones in Hero. Especially Takeshi Kaneshiro's fighting in the final confrontation lacked a lot.

This being said, though the film won't stick like Hero, basically because the cinematography and story are not as impressive or well done, it's a feast for the eye. And if you numb your mind you might get something out of it. If not the necessary romantic being-ripped-apart feeling, than at least bewildered astonishment in front of the costumes and the nothing less than otherworldly, almost impossible to endure, beauty of Ziyi Zhang.

Favourite moment: Zhang Ziyi's split between two bamboo trees.
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What a load of tosh
sleeter-11 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
What a load of tosh.

Simply put I didn't believe in the world laid out before me at all.

(Big spoilers follow...) I couldn't accept a world where anyone could throw 4 knives simultaneously over 30 meters, have them curve, and have them each hit different targets with pin point (better than laser guided) accuracy.

I also didn't buy into their ability to fly, from bamboo stalk to bamboo stalk, while throwing bamboo spears (which they were cutting from the stalks of bamboo as they're flying) which didn't suffer from niggling little effects such as gravity. Well the people didn't, so why should the bamboo spears, eh? I didn't buy that someone who isn't blind could force themselves to act blind even while having a half dozen swords/spears/bamboo javelins thrust at them.

I couldn't accept that a highly trained super ninja assassin would throw her sword at an incoming knife to knock it out of the air when she could have swung her sword and batted them out of the air with less difficulty.

I didn't believe in a world where a guy could fight on with a knife in his back for over 10 minutes, getting cut to ribbons by a big sword in a blizzard, then pull the knife out and then wander off while a woman (highly tough assassin type) couldn't survive simply getting hit in the chest with a knife.

The fight scenes were comically farcical, but were staged in a world which was trying to be taken seriously. I think either on their own would have been fine, but the combination jarred me out of my suspension of disbelief over and over until I finally stopped trying to get into it, admitted defeat.

Watching the interesting locations was my only comfort (despite them frequently being obscured by spinning loons) until at the end when the director even deprived me of that luxury by blanking everything out with snow.

1 out of 10, please try harder. A lot harder.
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Excellent and beautiful !
Lady_Targaryen9 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
China, year 859. The Tang's dynasty is not so powerful as before. The Emperor's government is corrupt, making the Emperor be without the enough powers to control the nation. Everything is a mess, and there is a secret Alliance called 'Flying Daggers 's Clan', who stole from the rich ones to give to the poor ones.(very Robin Hood's style) This Clan has the support of the people(since they help them), and they are also feared and hated by their rivals, the local deputies who work from the government. With a text very similar to the one above, the story about his great movie begins. We have beautiful scenarios,clothes,textures and make up, everything very colorful and bright. The three lead characters are captain Leo, captain Jin and the blind girl called Mei, who is a dancer in an entertainment house, and also a suspect of working for the Flying Daggers's clan. One of the best part of this movie is when Mei is dancing for Jin...everything was so beautiful and Zhang Zyiy was astonishing, as Takeshi Kaneshiro, who is the most beautiful Asian actor I already saw in my life!
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How Hot Was This?
QueenMakeda845 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is seriously a beautiful and stunning movie. Chinese directors should really give lessons to American film makers on how to construct such engaging cinematography and plot lines. The movie had everything you needed. I didn't mind in the least that it required subtitles. Hell, I watch English movies with captions just because actors tend to not enunciate or the sound director isn't altogether capable. But I digress.

The movie works as a kind of story within a story. There are many layers that get revealed as the journey goes on. Zhang stars as a blind exotic dancer/martial artist who is led by a handsome costar, back to her people, who seek to destroy the corrupt government of the time. The two progress from barely tolerant to an all-encompassing love for the other as they save each other's lives time and again as they try to return to her people. He is a charming and flirty man's man who brings the challenge upon himself to woo a strong, blind woman, but becomes less task-oriented when he actually learns about her. She, in turn, lets her defenses down as she discovers that he is "her wind". They have remarkable chemistry, as they are playful and passionate in their youth and sexual tension.

It's truly a suspense, romance, and action film that looks like a water painting or ballet to watch. The fight scenes are seamed and tailored, and gorgeous to view. Both utilized such grace and style that you wanted to fight with such nonchalance. As easy as walking. I admired that it wasn't too "Crouching Tiger" in its presentation. I found that movie a little too much with them walking or flying across trees. This movie made it a little more believable by executing moves with such force and slight of hand, that it quelled the suspension of disbelief. The acting was top-notch and on par throughout the film. They were a lovable and enticing cast. In particular, you wanted to know more about Mei and her guide and you wanted them to fall for each other. The intrigue mounts as the story develops the true nature of Mei's capture and her position within her people. Her lover is left to question the very sincerity of their relationship as more plot-thickenings emerge.

I highly recommend this film to all. Don't be afraid of the subtitles. The Chinese film industry is really on a whole other level of film making than America. It's poetic with every shot and reminds you of old medieval tales in its unfolding. It is seriously a great and grand film. The fight scenes were excellent. Especially the scene of Mei mimicking the sounds on the gourds as a dance. It was sexy and delicate at the same time. The way the fabric of her clothing moved was visually stunning and breathtaking. I could immediately see this film taking place in North Africa, particularly Morocco, with black actors in the roles. The cultures seemed so similar, that's why I could envision it. Hey, it could work. Let's think about it It was earthy, yet divine and lofty. I don't know how else to describe it. A beautiful movie by all my standards.
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House of the CGI effects
AwesomeWolf7 February 2005
What's up with Zhang Yimou? I had to watch 'To Live' during a university lecture, and it nearly had me in tears. Looking around the lecture theatre, I could see nearly everyone engrossed in the movie, and a fair few ready to cry like they never had before. 'To Live' was a rather critical attack on the Chinese Communist Party. Eight years later, and apparently 'Hero' is his way of supporting the CCP. So that got me thinking, is 'House of Flying Daggers' his way of pretending to be serious while he still figures out his own political beliefs?

'House of Flying Daggers' comes to us as what appears to be appears another love story / wu xia / whatever hybrid, made with western audiences in mind, much like 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and 'Hero'. I am quite the fan of martial arts movies, and enjoy a good wu xia movie (my favourite being 'Iron Monkey'), but I am a bit hesitant regarding these newer hybrid movies that take themselves too seriously. I love 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon', but I do not want to see a rapid succession of movies like 'House of Flying Daggers'.

Towards the end of the Tang Dynasty, a group of revolutionaries known as the House of Flying Daggers pose a threat to the declining Tang government. It isn't hard to figure out how these little rebels got their name, thanks to a penchant for using the most gravity - nay, reality - defying throwing-daggers you will ever see. Enter Mei (Zhang Ziyi pretending to be DareDevil, or at least the Master of the Flying Guillotine), a blind dancer suspected of having links to the Flying Daggers. In an elaborate - and thoroughly confusing - scheme to infiltrate the Flying Daggers, Police Captain Leo (Andy Lau) sends Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to investigate Mei, arrests them both, and then lets Jin dress up as flying ninja (because when you want something done, you'd best ask a flying ninja) to break Mei out of jail and lead the police to the Flying Daggers.

Now normally in martial-arts movies, the plot is not important, nor even essential, compared to the action on screen. On the hand, the plot of 'House of the Flying Daggers' is central to the film, while the fights are not. The story is long, occasionally boring, and featuring that twists that range from the predictable to the just plain silly. But hey, if you're looking for the longest death scene with no definite conclusion ever filmed, then look no further than 'House of Flying Daggers'.

The only thing about 'House of Flying Daggers' that is better than your average martial arts movie is the visuals. It is a stunning and beautiful movie, but anyone watching 'House of Flying Daggers' for it's cinematography is going to have suspend disbelief (to the extreme), especially in scenes such as the obligatory bamboo-forest sequence.

'House of Flying Daggers' beats most martial-arts movies hands down with regard to cinematography. Unfortunately for 'House of Flying Daggers', there are plenty of martial-arts films with a vastly inferior plot and cinematography, but feature action scenes that blow this movie out of the water. There are some nice fights, and it has the obligatory bamboo-forest scene (you will find bamboo-forest scenes in nearly every movie or game remotely like this, the 'Tenchu' video-game series being the first example to spring to mind), which in this case was rather amusing. Most of the action suffers from going overboard on super-CGI, and I can't help shake the feeling that I saw the same dagger flying against a different background every time. In fact, I think I did.

As a wu xia kung-fu movie, 'House of Flying Daggers' isn't bad, but it certainly isn't that good either. It gets pretty boring at times - 5/10
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Beautiful scenery and costumes do not compensate for ridiculous plot and dialogue
bda_92 March 2005
I saw this movie based on numerous positive reviews however I must say that I was bitterly disappointed.

Yes the movie is beautiful to look at, magic scenery, costumes and balletic fight scenes but all of these elements became paper thin window dressing for what was essentially a seemingly endless string of absurd battles. If I want to see "dancing" I will go to the ballet. The fighting whilst well choreographed lacked realism.

My main complaint is that the frequent silly moments in the film, perhaps due to a east/west cultural "gap" coupled with the very tedious plot, spoiled any enjoyment I may have ordinarily gleaned from the other elements of movie making.

To me this movie is like so many Hollywood movies that I detest; why spend $???million dollars making a film and spare so little on plot development or script.

With respect to the director, if he wants to make beautiful images alone perhaps he should take up oil painting.
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A Visual Spectacular
Scorching3 December 2004
Just like any Zhang Yimou film, the first thing that I noticed is the use of vibrant colours in the film. From the first scene down to the last Yimou was able to paint a fabulous picture on the screen. This certainly added to the already impressive settings on the film. I also thought that the costumes were very beautiful and added to the beauty of the film. The mood was also set by the amazing scoring.

I thought the performances of all the actors were very good especially by Zhang Zhiyi. I have always admired actors who portray roles which are very unique and not normally done.

The story was also pretty solid. A little slow in the start but it slowly picked up in a climax which was worthy of this film. It didn't have as much impact as Hero but it was nonetheless a good effort.

All these aspects have combined to deliver a masterpiece of a film which soothed all of my senses. An good mix of action and drama which made this film a good one.
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visually beautiful
SnoopyStyle5 September 2015
The Tang Dynasty is weak and the House of Flying Daggers rebels have been stealing from the rich to give to the poor. The rebel leader has recently been killed. Local deputies Captain Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are ordered to kill the new leader within ten days. Jin goes to be a client to the new blind dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi) who is suspected to be the previous leader's daughter. Leo comes in to arrest both Jin and Mei. Jin breaks her out of prison hoping she would lead him to the House of Flying Daggers.

There is no doubt that this is a visual delight. It is beautifully shot. There is a bit too much melodrama for me. I don't feel any connection to the love triangle. It takes over the movie and saps away my attention. It gets awkward and I stop caring. I can do without the convoluted soap opera but the movie is still very beautiful. In fact, the movie never stops looking beautiful even as the story grinds to a halt.
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