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House of Flying Daggers

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House of Flying Daggers
Theatrical release poster
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese十面埋伏
Simplified Chinese十面埋伏
Directed byZhang Yimou
Written by
  • Li Feng
  • Peter Wu
  • Wang Bin
  • Zhang Yimou
Produced by
CinematographyZhao Xiaoding
Edited byLong Cheng
Music byShigeru Umebayashi
  • Edko Films
  • China Film Co-Production Corporation
  • Elite Group Enterprises
  • Zhang Yimou Studio
  • Beijing New Picture Films
Distributed byEdko Films (Hong Kong)
Release dates
  • 19 May 2004 (2004-05-19) (Cannes)
  • 15 July 2004 (2004-07-15) (Hong Kong)
  • 16 July 2004 (2004-07-16) (China)
  • 3 December 2004 (2004-12-03) (United States)
Running time
119 minutes[1]
  • China
  • Hong Kong
Budget$12 million
Box office$92.9 million

House of Flying Daggers (Chinese: 十面埋伏; pinyin: Shímiàn máifú; lit. 'Ambush from ten sides') is a 2004 wuxia romance 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 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 grossed $11,050,094 at the United States box office and then went on to significantly overperform in home video market in the United States.[2]

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. It did receive a nomination for Best Cinematography.


In AD 859, as the Tang dynasty declines, several rebel groups are established, the largest of which is the House of Flying Daggers, based in Fengtian, who battle the corrupt government that oppresses the people. Its members use special throwing daggers that always hit their targets to steal from the rich and give to the poor, gaining the support of the locals. Two police officers, Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), are ordered to kill the leader of the group within ten days, a task that appears to be impossible as no one knows who the leader of the House of the Flying Daggers is.

To accomplish this, Leo arrests Mei (Zhang Ziyi), a blind dancer who is suspected of being the previous leader's daughter. Jin proceeds to assault the jail and set Mei free, pretending that he is a rebel sympathiser, an act which gains Mei's trust. As Mei and Jin travel to the Flying Dagger headquarters, Leo trails behind with reinforcements. Unfortunately, Mei and Jin fall in love.

To make the deception more realistic, Leo and his policemen pretend to ambush the pair. Later, though, they are ambushed for real by soldiers. At a secret meeting, Leo explains that the military has gotten involved and wants Jin and Mei dead. A few days later, Jin and Mei are ambushed again in a bamboo forest and almost killed, but they are saved by the House of Flying Daggers and taken to their headquarters. At this point, Mei is revealed to have been faking her blindness and is not the actual former leader's daughter. Furthermore, she is engaged to Leo, who is revealed to be a Flying Daggers member pretending to be an officer. The Flying Daggers are not afraid of the military and are actually looking forward to an open battle. A heartbroken Leo tells Mei that he waited for her for three years since he went undercover, and asks how she could fall in love with Jin after only three days, only to be told she has her heart set on Jin.

Leo tries to attack Mei, but their superior Nia throws a dagger into Leo's back and reassigns them to new missions, separating them. Shortly after, Mei is told to execute Jin. She frees him instead but refuses to desert the House to join him. Later, Mei changes her mind and rides after Jin, but is ambushed by Leo, who casts two daggers at her. Mei manages to deflect one of them while the other pierces her and seemingly kills her. At this point, Jin discovers Leo and the two of them fight, but their skills are too evenly matched. A raging blizzard falls upon them, while the military approaches the House.

Finally, with both men badly wounded and exhausted, Leo pulls Nia's dagger out of his back and threatens to use it on Jin. Mei reappears and threatens to pull the dagger out of her breast and throw it at Leo, which would cause her to bleed to death, but Jin begs her to save herself. After several tense moments, Leo decides to pretend to throw his dagger, intending to die by Mei's dagger while sparing Jin. However, Mei attempts to use her dagger to intercept Leo's dagger in flight. The result is that neither Leo nor Jin dies, but only Mei. In the end, Leo stumbles away in guilt while Jin cries over Mei's body, singing a song praising her as a "rare beauty", the likes of which he will never see again. Whether the House won against the military is left ambiguous.



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, Zhang Ziyi lived for two months with a blind girl who had lost her sight at the age of 12 because of a brain tumor. Takeshi Kaneshiro injured his leg when he went horseback riding. As a result, Yimou had Kaneshiro spend two scenes sitting or kneeling down to alleviate the pain, which was stated in Yimou's audio commentary.

Most of the film was shot in Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains (the Hutsul Region National Park), such as the scenes in the snow or birch forests. The cast and production team spent 70 days on location from September to October 2003, and were largely based in Kosiv.[3] The notable bamboo forest sequences were filmed in China. However, due to the early snowfall, the filmmakers opted to alter the script and certain sequences, rather than wait for the snow to thaw, as the leaves were still on the trees. Zhang Yimou later stated that despite the unpredictable weather forcing the alterations, he had achieved the desired effect in the scenery, and was happy with the final result.[4]

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

Literary origins[edit]

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.
Nǐng bù zhī qīng chéng yǔ qīng guó.
Jiārén nán zài dé.

In the north there is a beauty; peerless and independent.
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[edit]

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. Afterwards, the film went on to earn at least 50% more in the United States home video market than at the theatrical box office.[2]

The film made an additional $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 American market in 2004.[5]

Critical reception[edit]

House of Flying Daggers debuted in May at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival[6] to an enthusiastic reception.[7][8] The film reportedly received a 20-minute standing ovation at its Cannes Film Festival premiere.[9]

At film review aggregation website Metacritic, the film received an average score of 89 out of 100, based on 37 reviews.[10] Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 87%, based on reviews from 171 critics, and an average rating of 7.7/10. The website's critical consensus states: "The visual splendor of the movie makes up for the weak story".[11] Metacritic also ranked the film at the end of the year as the fifth-best reviewed film of 2004.[12]

Phil Hall of Film Threat wrote: "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."[13] 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."[14] 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."[15]

A. O. Scott of The New York Times described the film as: "A gorgeous entertainment, a feast of blood, passion, and silk brocade." The review also stated: "House of Flying Daggers for all its fire and beauty, may leave you a bit cold in the end."[16] 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: "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."[17] House of Flying Daggers was placed at number 93 on Slant's best films of the 2000s.[18] and ranked number 77 in Empire's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[19]

Home media[edit]

In the United Kingdom, the film was watched by 1.7 million viewers on Channel 4 in 2007, making it the year's most-watched foreign-language film on British television.[20] It was later watched by 600,000 viewers on Channel 4 in 2009, again making it the year's most-watched foreign-language film on Channel 4.[21] Combined, the film drew a 2.3 million UK viewership on Channel 4 in 2007 and 2009.




House of Flying Daggers
Soundtrack album by
  • 15 July 2004 (2004-07-15) (Hong Kong)
  • 7 December 2004 (2004-12-07) (United States)
GenreStage & Screen Classical
LabelEdko (Hong Kong)
Sony (United States)
ProducerShigeru 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[edit]


  1. ^ "House of Flying Daggers (15) (CUT)". British Board of Film Classification. 14 December 2004. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b Kaufman, Anthony. "Survivor: Niche island", Variety, Feb 6, 2006
  3. ^ 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 October 2015.
  4. ^ "House of Flying Daggers". Landmark Theaters. Archived from the original on 22 November 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2009.
  5. ^ "House of Flying Daggers (2004) – Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com.
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: House of Flying Daggers". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 5 December 2009.
  7. ^ "Cannes Film Festival 2004". Maclean's Magazine. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  8. ^ Peter Bradshaw (20 May 2004). "Cannes 2004: Review roundup". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  9. ^ "Daggers of the mind". Japan Today. 29 July 2004. Archived from the original on 20 December 2008. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  10. ^ "House of Flying Daggers". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  11. ^ "House of Flying Daggers". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  12. ^ "Best Movies for 2004". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  13. ^ Phil Hall (5 September 2004). "House of Flying Daggers". Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  14. ^ Desson Thomson (17 December 2004). "'Daggers' Flies Off The Screen". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  15. ^ Kevin Thomas (3 December 2004). "'House of Flying Daggers'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 11 June 2008. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  16. ^ A. O. Scott (3 December 2004). "Fanciful Flights of Blood and Passion". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  17. ^ Roger Ebert (17 December 2004). "House of Flying Daggers". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  18. ^ "Best of the Aughts: Film". Slant Magazine. 7 February 2010. Retrieved 10 February 2010.
  19. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 77. House of Flying Daggers". Empire.
  20. ^ "Statistical Yearbook 08" (PDF). UK Film Council. p. 87. Retrieved 21 April 2022 – via British Film Institute.
  21. ^ "Statistical Yearbook 10" (PDF). UK Film Council. 2010. p. 91. Retrieved 21 April 2022 – via British Film Institute.

External links[edit]