House of Flying Daggers

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House of Flying Daggers
House of Flying Daggers poster.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Traditional 十面埋伏
Simplified 十面埋伏
Mandarin Shí Miàn Mái Fú
Cantonese Sap6 Min6 Maai4 Fuk6
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Produced by William Kong
Zhang Yimou
Written by Li Feng
Peter Wu
Wang Bin
Zhang Yimou
Starring Andy Lau
Zhang Ziyi
Takeshi Kaneshiro
Music by Shigeru Umebayashi
Cinematography Zhao Xiaoding
Edited by Long Cheng
Edko Films
Elite Group Enterprises
Zhang Yimou Studio
Beijing New Picture Films
Distributed by Edko Films (Hong Kong)
Sony Pictures Classics (US)
Release dates
  • 19 May 2004 (2004-05-19) (Cannes)
  • 15 July 2004 (2004-07-15) (Hong Kong)
  • 16 July 2004 (2004-07-16) (China)
Running time
119 minutes
Country China
Hong Kong
Language Mandarin
Budget $12 million
Box office $92.9 million

House of Flying Daggers is a 2004 wuxia film directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Unlike other wuxia films, it is more of a love story than purely a martial arts film.

The use of strong colors is a signature of Zhang Yimou's work. Several scenes in a bamboo forest completely fill the screen with green. Near the end of the film, a fight scene is set in a blizzard. The actors and blood are greatly highlighted on a whiteout background. Another scene uses bright yellow as a color theme. The costumes, props, and decorations were taken almost entirely from Chinese paintings of the period, adding authenticity to the look of the film .citation needed

The film opened in limited release within the United States on 3 December 2004, in New York City and Los Angeles, and opened on additional screens throughout the country two weeks later.

The film was chosen as China's entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for the year 2004; but was not nominated in that category though it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.


In 859 CE, the once great Tang Dynasty is in decline. Numerous rebel groups have formed, the largest of which is the House of Flying Daggers, based in Fengtian county. The Flying Daggers steal from the rich and give to the poor, gaining the support of the locals.

The local authorities manage to kill the leader of the Flying Daggers, but the rebel group only becomes stronger, due to a mysterious new leader. Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), two police captains, are ordered to kill the new leader within ten days.

In order to accomplish this, they arrest Mei (Zhang Ziyi), a blind dancer who is suspected of being the daughter of the old leader of the Flying Daggers. While Mei is incarcerated, Jin and Leo decide to let her go to track the mastermind; Jin will pretend to be a lone warrior called Wind, and break her out of prison. This will gain her trust, and hopefully, Jin will be led to the headquarters of Flying Daggers. The plan works, but Mei and Jin fall in love on the way. They are followed at a distance by Leo; Jin and Leo meet secretly to discuss their plans. Jin jokes about his seduction of the girl; Leo warns him sternly against getting involved.

To add authenticity to the deception, Leo and his men ambush the pair: the fight is, however, a fake. Further on, they are attacked again, but this time their assailants are apparently for real: Jin and Mei battle for their lives, being saved only by the intervention of an unseen knife-thrower. Furious, Jin confronts Leo: Leo explains that he has reported the matter up the chain of command and his general has taken over the pursuit. Jin realizes that he is now expendable.

Once again, Jin and Mei are attacked by the General's men. They are hopelessly outnumbered; at the last minute they are saved when the House of Flying Daggers reveal themselves. Jin and Leo are captured and taken to their headquarters. At this point, a number of surprising revelations are made. Mei is not blind, nor is she the old leader's daughter - she was merely pretending to be. Yee (Song Dandan), the Madam of the Peony Pavilion, pretends to be Nia, the new leader of the House of Flying Daggers; however, when Leo confronts her, she admits that the real Nia would not reveal herself so easily. Leo is in fact an undercover agent for the House of Flying Daggers, which has engineered the whole chain of events in order to draw the General into a decisive battle. Furthermore, Leo is in love with Mei: he has waited for three years for her whilst working undercover.

Mei, however, cannot bring herself to love Leo: over the last few days she has fallen for Jin. Leo is enraged and tries to rape Mei, but she is saved by her superiors, who embed a dagger in Leo's back. However, she is punished by being ordered to kill Jin. Instead, Mei takes him away then frees him from his bonds before they make love in the field. Jin then begs Mei to flee with him, but she is torn between her love and her duty to the House, as well as guilt over Leo; Jin leaves alone.

Mei finally decides to ride after Jin, but is ambushed by Leo who is embittered by her rejection and consumed by jealousy for Jin. Mei, not realizing that Leo has thrown two daggers stuck together, only manages to ward off one before the other strikes her in the chest. As Mei lies dying, Jin returns to find Leo, and they begin an epic battle of honor and revenge, fighting from autumn to winter. As Leo and Jin battle, soldiers close in on the House of Flying Daggers headquarters. Mei, regaining consciousness, grabs the dagger in her chest and threatens to pull it out and to throw it in order to kill Leo if Leo kills Jin with his throwing dagger; in doing so Mei would sacrifice her own life, as it would enable the blood to flow and cause her to bleed to death. Jin begs her not to do it, willing to die rather than let her be killed. Infuriated, Leo throws his arm out as if to throw a knife at Jin, leading Mei to rip the dagger out of her own heart and throw it, not at Leo but instead in an attempt to deflect Leo's attack and save Jin. However, all her dagger does is deflect a droplet of blood, as Leo never let go of his dagger. Leo stumbles off into the blizzard, broken over having caused Mei's death in face of her apparent refusal to do the same to him. A grief-stricken Jin cradles Mei's lifeless body, singing the song originally sung by Mei at the beginning of the film in the Peony Pavilion. It is left ambiguous as to whether the House of Flying Daggers survived the soldiers' assault or not.



Anita Mui was originally cast for a major role, which was to be her final film appearance. She died of cervical cancer before any of her scenes were filmed. After her death on 30 December 2003, director Zhang Yimou decided to alter the script rather than find a replacement. The film is dedicated to her memory.

To prepare for her role, for two months Zhang Ziyi lived with a blind girl who had lost her sight at the age of twelve because of a brain tumor. Takeshi Kaneshiro injured his leg when he went horse-back riding. As a result, Yimou had Kaneshiro spend two scenes sitting or kneeling down in order to alleviate the pain, which was stated in Zhang Yimou's audio commentary.

Most of the film was filmed in Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains (the Hutsul Region National Park), such as the scene in the snow or birch forests. The film team spent 70 days on location (September–October 2003), based in Kosiv.1 However, the often noted bamboo forest sequences were filmed in China. It snowed so early (October) that the filmmakers had to change the script and the film. They did not want to wait because the leaves were still on the trees. Zhang Yimou was very happy with how it turned out, however, because it set the perfect tone.2

Like its predecessor Hero, House of Flying Daggers uses wuxing color-theory in both a deliberate and ironic manner.

Literary origins

The film features the theme of a beautiful woman who brings woe to two men. This theme is borrowed from a famous poem written by the Han Dynasty poet Li Yannian (李延年):

(běi) (fāng) (yǒu) (jiā) (rén)(jué) (shì) (ér) () ()() () (qīng) (rén) (chéng)(zài) () (qīng) (rén) (guó)(nìng) () (zhī) (qīng) (chéng) () (qīng) (guó)(jiā) (rén) (nán) (zài) ()

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese



Pinyin transcription English translation

Běifāng yǒu jiārén, juéshì ér dúlì.
Yí gù qīng rén chéng, zài gù qīng rén guó.
Nìng bù zhī qīng chéng yǔ qīng guó.
Jiārén nán zài dé.

In the north there is a beauty; surpassing the world, she stands alone.
A glance from her will overthrow a city; another glance will overthrow a nation.
One would rather not know whether it will be a city or a nation that will be overthrown.
As it would be difficult to behold such a beauty again.


Box office

House of Flying Daggers opened in North America on 3 December 2004 in 15 theatres. It grossed US$397,472 ($26,498 per screen) in its opening weekend. The film's total North American gross is $11,050,094.

The film made an additional US$81,751,003 elsewhere in the world, bringing its total worldwide box office gross to $92,801,097. It was also the third highest grossing foreign language film in the North America market in 2004.3

Critical reception

House of Flying Daggers debuted in May at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival4 to enthusiastic receptions.56 The film reportedly received a 20-minute standing ovation at its Cannes Film Festival premiere.7

The film received widespread critical acclaim.8 At film review aggregation website Metacritic, the film received an average score of 89%, based on 37 reviews.8 Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "Certified Fresh" score of 88% based on reviews from 160 critics.9 Metacritic also ranked the film at the end of the year as the 6th best reviewed film of 2004.10

Phil Hall of Film Threat raved the film by stating: "Quite simply, House of Flying Daggers is a film that sets several new standards for production and entertainment values. It is a wild riot of color, music, passion, action, mystery, pure old-fashioned thrills and even dancing. With an endless supply of imagination and a kinetic force of nature in its amazing star Zhang Ziyi, House of Flying Daggers cuts all other films to shreds."11 Desson Thomas of the Washington Post praised the director Zhang Yimou's use of color in the film as "simply the best in the world" and described the film as: "the slow-motion trajectory of a small bean, hurled from a police captain's hand, is a spectacular thing. It's a stunning, moving image, like a hummingbird caught in action."12 While Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times praised the film by stating: "House of Flying Daggers finds the great Chinese director at his most romantic in this thrilling martial arts epic that involves a conflict between love and duty carried out to its fullest expression."13

A.O. Scott of The New York Times described the film as: "A gorgeous entertainment, a feast of blood, passion and silk brocade." But the review also stated: "House of Flying Daggers for all its fire and beauty, may leave you a bit cold in the end."14 Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film four out of four stars and states: "Forget about the plot, the characters, the intrigue, which are all splendid in House of Flying Daggers, and focus just on the visuals", and Ebert also states that: "the film is so good to look at and listen to that, as with some operas, the story is almost beside the point, serving primarily to get us from one spectacular scene to another."15 House of Flying Daggers was placed at 93 on Slant Magazine's best films of the 2000s.16 and ranked #77 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.17





House of Flying Daggers
Soundtrack album by Shigeru Umebayashi
  • 15 July 2004 (2004-07-15) (Hong Kong)
  • 7 December 2004 (2004-12-07) (United States)
Genre Stage & Screen Classical
Length 49:37
Label Edko (Hong Kong)
Sony (United States)
Producer Shigeru Umebayashi

The soundtrack was produced and created by Shigeru Umebayashi, featuring vocals by Zhang Ziyi and Kathleen Battle. It was released in Hong Kong on 15 July 2004 by the film's production company and distributor Edko Films. The US version was released by Sony Music Entertainment on 7 December 2004.

  1. "Opening Title" - 0:58
  2. "Beauty Song" (佳人曲) - 2:32 (Zhang Ziyi)
  3. "The Echo Game" - 1:17
  4. The Peonyhouse - 1:22
  5. "Battle in the Forest" - 3:26
  6. "Taking Her Hand" - 1:14
  7. "Leo's Eyes" - 1:51
  8. "Lovers-Flower Garden" - 2:19
  9. "No Way Out" - 3:59
  10. "Lovers" - 1:54
  11. "Farewell No. 1" - 2:42
  12. "Bamboo Forest" - 2:36
  13. "Ambush in Ten Directions" (十面埋伏) - 2:01
  14. "Leo's Theme" - 2:36
  15. "Mei and Leo" - 3:06
  16. "The House of Flying Daggers" - 1:27
  17. "Lovers-Mei and Jin" - 4:21
  18. "Farewell No. 2" - 2:49
  19. "Until The End " - 2:55
  20. "Title Song Lovers" - 4:12 (Kathleen Battle)

See also


  1. ^ Dmitrenko, Natalia. "Китай у Карпатах, або Як в Україні знімали блокбастер "Будинок літаючих кинджалів" (China in the Carpathians, or how the blockbuster House of Flying Daggers was filmed in Ukraine)" (in Ukrainian). Україна Молода. Retrieved 1-03-2004.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  2. ^ "House of Flying Daggers". Landmark Theaters. Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: House of Flying Daggers". Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  5. ^ "Cannes Film Festival 2004". Maclean's Magazine. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  6. ^ Peter Bradshaw (2004-05-20). "Cannes 2004: Review roundup". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  7. ^ "Daggers of the mind". Japan Today. 2004-07-29. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  8. ^ a b "House of Flying Daggers". Metacritic. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  9. ^ "House of Flying Daggers". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  10. ^ "Film Awards and Top Tens by Year". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  11. ^ Phil Hall (2004-09-05). "House of Flying Daggers". Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  12. ^ Desson Thomson (2004-12-17). "'Daggers' Flies Off The Screen". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  13. ^ Kevin Thomas (2004-12-03). "'House of Flying Daggers'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-06-11. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  14. ^ A.O. Scott (2004-12-03). "Fanciful Flights of Blood and Passion". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  15. ^ Roger Ebert (2004-12-17). "House of Flying Daggers". Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  16. ^ "Best of the Aughts: Film". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 10 February 2010. 
  17. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 77. House of Flying Daggers". Empire. 

External links