House of Flying Daggers [Shi mian mai fu]
by Chris Wood
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In 859 A.D. the Chinese government took a particular interest in a rebel gang known as the Flying Daggers—their specialty being daggers (duh!). The Flying Dagger’s resistance vexed the government because of their elusiveness and effectiveness in causing headaches and hiccups in governmental progress. However, two police deputies, Leo and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau) have hatched a plan to find these deadly martial artists. Jin is to pose as a playboy (not much of a stretch for his character) at the Phang Pavilion and carouse with the showgirls on a tip that one of them might lead to the Flying Daggers.
While at the pavilion, Jin is over served but manages to keep his alcohol down for the “piece de resistance”—a beautiful young girl named Mei (Ziyi Zhang, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha). Mei is truly blessed with good looks, but alas is blind. Jin is overcome by her, forces himself on the girl and the police move in to arrest the inebriated undercover cop as part of the plan.
The girl, Mei, was to be spared the incarceration, at the command of Leo, if she played a game called, “echo” (“Echo” involved a circle of standing drums, with the player in the center, and a pebble is flicked at one or more drums. Then the player must mimic the sounds—remember she’s blind!). The scene is a cornucopia for the senses.
Although Mei is a quick study at the game, she attempted to kill Leo during it. That’s a big “no-no” so she is taken in for questioning, suspected of belonging to The House of Flying Daggers. After her capture, Leo has Jin stage an escape to spring Mei. This proves Jin’s antiestablishment behavior and wins Mei’s trust of him. But like an evening with David Copperfield (the magician) there is more than meets the eye. Veil after veil are pulled from certain characters’ eyes as the story progressed.
Yimou Zhang (Hero) directed The House of Flying Daggers, which is to be China’s entry in the best foreign film’ category for the 2004 Academy Awards, with first time credited cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao and visual effects supervisors Andy Brown (Hero, Moulin Rouge), Kristy Miller (Matrix Reloaded) and team. These names were important to mention because of the simply fantastic visual shots in this movie. From the detailed interior of the pavilion to the sweeping landscapes of rural China, eyes will not leave the theater hungry. Also, the seasons which change during the picture do parallel the plot in some ways and the men’s and women’s garbs proved to be the litmus test which teleported viewers back to China in the ninth century (Emi Wada was the costume designer—Hero). And not to go without honorable mention were the mind numbingly fast and meticulously choreographed fight scenes done by Siu-Tung Ching (Hero). The cast who preformed these feats were believable, although they were essentially doing the unbelievable.
The House of Flying Daggers is really a testament to the idea of “movie magic.” Yes, several of the fight scenes are quite over the top (Example: The scene in the bamboo forest where government sanctioned police are throwing sharpened bamboo spears, they cut from the trees they’re perched in, and hopping from treetop to treetop providing chase to the fleeing Jin and Mei). Yes, the ending of the movie does become a bit like a game of “Clue,” and yes, the movie is entirely in subtitles (obviously). But, the strength of the visuals, touching story and hypnotic swordplay wash over those parts where one might croak, “Yea, right!” The movie was fun, exciting, moving and, again, visually stunning.
Chris Wood is a freelance writer and graduate student for fine arts in creative fiction and nonfiction writing.
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