A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, February 15, 2016

House of Flying Daggers (Yimou Zhang, 2004)

From the kaleidoscopic color of the Peony Palace at the beginning of the film through the final duel seen through the scrim of a blizzard, House of Flying Daggers is visually extraordinary, fully deserving of its Academy Award nomination for Xiaoding Zhao's cinematography. It tends, however, to be a collection of brilliant set pieces, including a spectacular battle in a bamboo forest, held together by what could be a conventional love triangle -- if only the stories of the three members of the triangle, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), Leo (Andy Lau), and Mei (Zhang Ziyi ), weren't so extraordinarily complicated. In the story by director Zhang Yimou , Feng Li, and Bin Wang, it is 859 C.E., and the police are trying to root out the House of Flying Daggers, a group of Robin Hood-style rebels against the government of the Tang Dynasty. Police captain Leo and his subordinate, Jin, hear that an agent of the Flying Daggers is working incognito at the Peony Palace, a brothel, so they arrest Mei, a blind dancer. But neither Mei nor Leo is exactly who they appear to be, which is unfortunate for Jin, who falls in love with Mei, with fatal consequences. In the end, it's best just to sit back and admire the performances of the three actors, especially Zhang Ziyi , who is truly astonishing in both the action sequences and the dramatic scenes. In addition to Zhao's cinematography, the visual impact of the film depends largely on the work of production designer, Tingxiao Huo, art director Zhong Han, and costume designer Emi Wada. Most of the exterior scenes, with the exception of the bamboo forest, were filmed on location in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine.