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
Written by
  • Li Feng
  • Peter Wu
  • Wang Bin
  • Zhang Yimou
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
Release date
  • 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[1]
  • China
  • Hong Kong
Language Mandarin
Budget $12 million
Box office $92.9 million

House of Flying Daggers 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 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 an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.


In AD 859, as the Tang Dynasty declines, a number of 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 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) - who are best friends - 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 sympathizer, 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 men pretend to ambush the pair. Later, though, they are ambushed for real by a different group. 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, but they are saved by the House of Flying Daggers and taken to their headquarters. At this point, it is revealed that Mei isn't really blind, and furthermore, that she is engaged to Leo, who has secretly been a Flying Dagger member. The Flying Daggers are not afraid of the military, but rather, they are looking forward to an open battle. A heartbroken Leo tells Mei that he waited for her for three years since he went undercover to infiltrate the police, and asks how she could fall in love with Jin after only three days; only to be informed by Mei that she has her heart set on Jin.

Mei, however, cannot bring herself to love Leo, since she now loves Jin. Leo tries to rape Mei but Mei's superior throws a dagger into Leo's back. Shortly after, Mei is told to execute Jin for being a police officer. She frees him instead, but refuses to desert the House so that she could join him. Half an hour later, Mei suddenly changes her mind and rides after Jin, but is ambushed by Leo, who casts two daggers at her. Mei tosses her sword, managing to deflect one of them while the other pierces her breast. At this point, Jin discovers Leo and the two of them fight, but their skills are too evenly matched with neither gaining an advantage as they bloodily battle one another over the course of a raging blizzard that suddenly falls upon them. Meanwhile, the House gets assaulted by the military.

Finally, Leo pulls the dagger out of his back and threatens to throw it at Jin. Mei threatens to pull the dagger out of her breast and throw it at Leo, which would cause her to die from blood loss, but Jin begs her to protect her own life. After waiting for several tense moments, Leo, feeling suicidal, decides to pretend to throw his dagger and be killed. To his great surprise, Mei attempts to use her own dagger to intercept Leo's dagger in flight. The result of all this is that neither Leo nor Jin die, but only Mei. In the end, Leo stumbles away in guilt while Jin cries over Mei's dead body, singing a song praising her as a "rare beauty", the likes of which he will never see again. The question of 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, 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 shot in Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains (the Hutsul Region National Park), such as the scene 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.[2] 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. Director 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.[3]

Like its predecessor Hero, House of Flying Daggers uses wuxing color-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; 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[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.

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.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

House of Flying Daggers debuted in May at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival[5] to enthusiastic receptions.[6][7] The film reportedly received a 60-minute standing ovation at its Cannes Film Festival premiere.[8]

The film received widespread critical acclaim.[9] At film review aggregation website Metacritic, the film received an average score of 89, based on 37 reviews.[9] Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "Certified Fresh" score of 88% based on reviews from 160 critics.[10] Metacritic also ranked the film at the end of the year as the 5th best reviewed film of 2004.[11]

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."[12] 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."[13] 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."[14]

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."[15] 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."[16] House of Flying Daggers was placed at 93 on Slant Magazine's best films of the 2000s.[17] and ranked #77 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[18]




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[edit]


  1. ^ "House of Flying Daggers (15) (CUT)". British Board of Film Classification. 14 December 2004. Retrieved 24 November 2016. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ "House of Flying Daggers". Landmark Theaters. Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: House of Flying Daggers". Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  6. ^ "Cannes Film Festival 2004". Maclean's Magazine. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  7. ^ Peter Bradshaw (2004-05-20). "Cannes 2004: Review roundup". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  8. ^ "Daggers of the mind". Japan Today. 2004-07-29. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  9. ^ a b "House of Flying Daggers". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  10. ^ "House of Flying Daggers". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  11. ^ "Best Movies for 2004". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  12. ^ Phil Hall (2004-09-05). "House of Flying Daggers". Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  13. ^ Desson Thomson (2004-12-17). "'Daggers' Flies Off The Screen". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  14. ^ Kevin Thomas (2004-12-03). "'House of Flying Daggers'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-06-11. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  15. ^ A.O. Scott (2004-12-03). "Fanciful Flights of Blood and Passion". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  16. ^ Roger Ebert (2004-12-17). "House of Flying Daggers". Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  17. ^ "Best of the Aughts: Film". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 10 February 2010. 
  18. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 77. House of Flying Daggers". Empire. 

External links[edit]