The year is 859AD and China's once flourishing Tang Dynasty is in decline. Unrest is raging throughout the land, and the corrupt government is locked in battle with rebel armies that are forming in protest. The largest of these is the 'House of Flying Daggers', which is growing ever more powerful under a mysterious new leader.
Two local captains, Leo (Andy Lau Tak Wah) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are ordered to capture the new leader and the two hatch an elaborate plan. Captain Jin will pretend to be a lone warrior called Wind and rescue the beautiful, blind revolutionary Mei (Ziyi Zhang), from prison, earning her trust and escorting her to the secret headquarters of the House of Flying Daggers.
The plan works, but to their surprise, Jin and Mei fall deeply in love on their long journey to the House. What lies ahead for Jin and Mei, these star-crossed lovers? If this is true love, then why are there plots in their heads...and secrets in their hearts?Review: House of Flying Daggers is one of the most beautiful and visually spectacular films ever created, but also one of the most remote and abstract. Like the equally impressive Hero (also directed by Yimou) and the Oscar winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this film is from the wuxia genre that celebrates swordplay and chivalry in grand old days of Imperial China. With their emphasis on heroic duels, epic battle scenes and heavily stylized ideas of love and honour, wuxia films don't place much stock in realism or emotional nuance.
House of Flying Daggers is a particularly extreme example of the genre - as breathtaking as a snowy mountaintop but equally cold and distant. One of the main causes of this emotional distance is, oddly enough, the care with which the film is shot. Yimou, aided by his Director of Photography Zhao Xiaoding, don't shoot a scene so much as compose a series of utterly beautiful shots and string them together. The overall effect is of a painting set in motion rather than a film. Of course every director pays attention to composition, but few give it as much time and energy as Yimou. While this style makes House of Flying Daggers a visual treat, it also draws attention to itself and prevents us from immersing ourselves in the story. Not that the story is especially compelling. The chivalric melodrama has a few interesting twists and turns, but the plot is thin at best. Despite all the action very little actually happens, particularly considering the film takes a full two hours to play out. However plot is almost beside the point in a film like this - it's an exercise in the grand and the spectacular, not an examination of human behaviour. This might sound off-putting, but after watching the first action sequence you're unlikely to care about plot. Words can't do justice to the captivating balletic brilliance of these scenes. More like dance than battle, they explode with colour, light and perfectly choreographed movement, at once brutal and beautiful. Some may criticize the film for being "all fight scenes with no point" but to do so is to misunderstand the wuxia genre. No one would complain that a spaghetti western "had too many shootouts and not enough realism". As long as you can resist the urge to look for obvious meaning in the film you will find it captivating. This is a film that needs no "point" - it's a work of art - and like many great works of art it won't offer you ease or comfort, only abstract beauty. - Alistair Fairweather
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