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House of Flying Daggers ( ), is a 2004 Chinese action/romance film directed by Zhang Yimou. The film is in the wuxia genre, similar in style to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and Warriors of Heaven and Earth. House of Flying Daggers differs from other wuxia films in that it is more of a love story than a straight martial arts film.

The use of strong colours is again 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 colour theme. The costumes, props, and decorations were taken almost entirely from Chinese paintings of the period, adding authenticity to the look of the film.

The film opened in limited release within the United Statesmarker on December 3, 2004, in New Yorkmarker and Los Angelesmarker, and opened on additional screens throughout the country two weeks later.


The film is set in 859 AD. The once great Tang Dynasty is now in decline. Numerous rebel groups have formed, the largest of which is the House of Flying Daggers, based in Feng Tian county. The Flying Daggers steal from the rich and give to the poor, gaining the support of the locals.

The local deputies have managed to kill the leader of the Flying Daggers, but the rebel group only becomes stronger, due to a mysterious new leader. Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau), 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. 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. 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. But as Jin is now a liability, she is ordered by Nia, the leader of the House of Flying Daggers, to kill him. 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.

In the final scenes, Mei decides to ride after Jin, but is ambushed by Leo who is embittered by her rejection and consumed by jealousy for Jin. Leo throws daggers at her. Mei, not realizing that the daggers were doubled only managed to ward off one knife, while the other strikes her in the chest. As Mei lies dying, Jin returns to find Leo, and an epic battle of honor begins. The last scene sees Mei, regaining consciousness, grabbing the dagger in her chest and threatening to pull it out and to throw it in order to kill Leo if Leo kills Jin with his throwing dagger (this would kill Mei, 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, but she continues to threaten to sacrifice her own life for Jin. Infuriated, Leo throws his arm out as if to throw a knife at Jin, and Mei rips the dagger out of her own heart to deflect it; she opted to try to deflect Leo's attack and save Jin rather than throw it at Leo and kill him in revenge. However, all her dagger does is deflect a droplet of blood, as Leo never threw his dagger. The implication is that if she is willing to die for Jin, Leo, despite his feelings for her, would rather she died with him together, since he thought she would throw the dagger to kill him. Removing the dagger from her chest causes Mei's death, and surmises her death as seemingly futile. Yet, the smile before her collapse signifies her knowledge that Leo will ultimately spare Jin's life on account of her sacrifice. In the final scene, Leo walks off into the blizzard as Jin holds Mei's lifeless body, singing the song originally sung by Mei at the beginning of the film in the Peony Pavilion.



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 December 30, 2003, director Yimou Zhang 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, Zhang 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.

The scene in the snow was filmed in Ukrainemarker, which, unlike China, has birch forests. 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.

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 ( ):

        ,          。
        ,          。

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese

Pinyin transcription English translation from [88655]

A rare beauty in the north, she's the finest lady on earth.

A glance from her, the whole city falls; a second glance leaves the whole nation in ruins.

There exists no city or nation, that has been more cherished

Than a beauty like this.

(See also external site with characters in images: simp. trad.)


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

The film received universal acclaim from notable film critics. At the film review aggregator site Metacritic, the film received an average score of 89 out of 100, based on 37 reviews. At Rotten Tomatoes, the site reported that 88% of critics had given the film positive reviews, based on 160 reviews; with "top critics" given the film a 95% rating. Metacritic also ranked the film at the end of the year as the 6th best reviewed film of 2004.

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." 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." 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."

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." 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."

Despite receiving great acclaim from film critics in the U.S. and the West, the film and its director were fairly heavily criticized locally in mainland China, Hong Kongmarker, and Taiwanmarker. Many Chinese critics felt that the film lacked a strong storyline or message, that the dialogue was poor, and that Zhang was simply trying to appeal to Western audiences with heavily choreographed fight scenes and extensive use of computer-generated imagery. Zhang Yimou's previous films, including the critically acclaimed Raise the Red Lantern and The Story of Qiu Ju, were insightful and tragic dramas about the lives of everyday peasants in modern rural China.

Box office performance

House of Flying Daggers opened in North America on December 3, 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.[88656]




  • Academy Awards
    • Best Cinematography (Zhao Xiaoding)
  • Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films
    • Best Actress (Zhang Ziyi)
    • Best Costumes (Emi Wada)
    • Best Director (Zhang Yimou)
    • Best Fantasy Film
  • BAFTA Awards
    • Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects (Angie Lam, Andy Brown, Kirsty Millar & Luke Hetherington)
    • Best Cinematography (Zhao Xiaoding)
    • Best Costume Design (Emi Wada)
    • Best Editing (Long Cheng)
    • Best Film not in the English Language (William Kong & Zhang Yimou)
    • Best Make Up/Hair (Lee-na Kwan, Xiaohai Yang & Siu-Mui Chau)
    • Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Zhang Ziyi)
    • Best Production Design (Huo Tingxiao)
    • Best Sound (Tao Jing & Roger Savage)
  • London Film Critics Circle
    • Film of the Year
    • Director of the Year (Zhang Yimou)
    • Foreign language film of the year
  • Satellite Awards
    • Best Art Direction/Production Design (Zhong Han)
    • Best Costume Design (Emi Wada)
    • Best Film Editing (Long Cheng)
    • Best Motion Picture - Foreign Film (China)
    • Best Sound (Editing & Mixing) (Jing Tao)
  • Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards
    • Best Foreign-Language Film
  • Online Film Critics Society Awards
    • Best Cinematography (Xiaoding Zhao)
    • Best Editing (Long Cheng)
    • Best Foreign Language Film (China)
  • European Film Awards
    • Best Non-European Film - Prix Screen International


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