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House of Flying Daggers

Poster for the movie "House of Flying Daggers"

House of Flying Daggers (2004)

PG-13 119 min - Adventure, Drama, Action, Romance - 19 May 2004
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In 9th century China, a corrupt government wages war against a rebel army called the Flying Daggers. A romantic warrior breaks a beautiful rebel out of prison to help her rejoin her fellows, but things are not what they seem. At its height, the Tang Dynasty was one of the most enlightened empires in Chinese history. But in 859AD, the Dynasty is in decline.

Director:  Zhang Yimou


In 9th century China, a corrupt government wages war against a rebel army called the Flying Daggers. A romantic warrior breaks a beautiful rebel out of prison to help her rejoin her fellows, but things are not what they seem. At its height, the Tang Dynasty was one of the most enlightened empires in Chinese history. But in 859AD, the Dynasty is in decline.

Collections: Zhang Yimou


Official Website: 
Country:   China Hong Kong
Language:  普通话
Release Date:  19 May 2004

Box Office

Revenue:  $92,863,945

Company Credits

Production Companies:  Beijing New Picture Film Co. Ltd.

Technical Specs

Runtime:  1 h 59 min

At its height, the Tang Dynasty was one of the most enlightened empires in Chinese history. But in 859AD, the Dynasty is in decline.

The Emperor is incompetent and the government is corrupt. Unrest is spreading throughout the land, and many rebel armies are forming in protest. The largest, and most prestigious, is an underground alliance called the ‘House of Flying Daggers’. The House of Flying Daggers operates mysteriously, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Thus, they earned the support and admiration of the people and expanded quickly. Based in Feng Tian County, close to the Imperial Capital, the House of Flying Daggers has long been a thorn in the side of their hated rivals, the local deputies.

To the fury of the deputies, even after they fought and killed the leader of the House of Flying Daggers, the House continues to thrive. Under the leadership of a mysterious New Leader, the House of Flying Daggers grows ever more powerful. Feng Tian County’s two local captains, Leo (ANDY LAU TAK WAH) and Jin (TAKESHI KANESHIRO) are ordered to capture the new leader within ten days.

House of Flying Daggers movie trailer

Captain Leo suspects that Mei (ZHANG ZIYI), the beautiful new dancer at the local Peony Pavilion is actually the daughter of the old leader, and hatches a plan to arrest her and bring her in for questioning. When Mei refuses to divulge any information on the House of Flying Daggers, the two captains set up another plan. This time, Captain Jin will pretend to be a lone warrior called Wind and rescue Mei from prison, earning her trust and escorting her to the secret headquarters of the House of Flying Daggers. The plan works, and on their long journey to the House, Jin and Mei warm to each other. Before long, Mei has developed feelings for her enigmatic protector, Wind. For his part, Jin is surprised to find himself falling for Mei’s headstrong charm. Both struggle to contain their feelings, but under the starry night, their irrepressible desire is almost beyond their control. Danger lurks in the forest surrounding them, and the wind is still, as if sensing the tension in the air.

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?

Best known for his beautiful, sensitive portraits of China, Director Zhang Yimou explains that he is not an expert action film director but rather an enthusiastic student of the genre. After his first foray into ‘wuxia’ (swordplay and chivalry genre) films with the Academy Award? nominated HERO, Zhang found himself hooked on action. “This time around, I am braver and more accustomed to the genre”, says China’s most celebrated director. “You can say that this film is a tribute to wuxia film making”.

Zhang Yimou’s approach to the wuxia film gives nod to one of the genre’s great masters, King HU. Hu’s oeuvre, which includes the Cannes Film Festival Technical Grand Prize winning ‘A Touch of Zen’ (1969) has long set the standard for themes and conventions of the wuxia genre: The Battle of the Bamboo Forest, the knight-errant, the swordplay action, the fights for a political or patriotic cause – these are Hu’s legacies that Zhang Yimou has studied and reworked to make his own.

HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS may be a thrilling action piece, but it also bears Zhang Yimou’s trademark exquisite visual beauty and incisive storytelling. “I don’t want to make an ordinary martial arts film”, explains Zhang, “I want to talk about passion, interesting characters… my own style of wuxia film. This is a story about passion and love… it may be a wuxia film, but it is also an evocative and romantic love story.”

Despite being one of Asia’s best known leading men, Takeshi Kaneshiro found himself in awe of the three-time Academy Award? nominated director. “I was worried that I would say the wrong thing or keep making mistakes, but the director was always very encouraging,” says the Japanese-Taiwanese actor, “He would explain what he wanted, and listening to him was like hearing someone tell a story – I was entranced, and came away knowing exactly what I needed to do.”

For Hong Kong megastar Andy Lau, it was the director’s story-driven approach that proved a surprise and delight: “When I accepted the part, I thought there would be many fight scenes, but then I realized Yimou wanted an in-depth portrayal of the character and his personality traits… Zhang Yimou will put the camera on you and leave it there. And if you’re good, you’re good. And if you’re not, well…” For Zhang Yimou, there is no question of whether or not Lau is good. “ He’s a great actor”, says Zhang “He can cry on cue five takes in a row, which isn’t easy – and he’s improving all the time.”

Zhang Ziyi, who has collaborated many times with Zhang Yimou since her debut in Zhang’s ‘The Road Home’, is consistently impressed with the director’s inquisitive mind and poetic storytelling. In HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, Zhang Ziyi plays a blind dancer who is not all she seems to be. To prepare for her challenging role, Zhang lived with a blind girl for two months. “When this girl was twelve,” explains Zhang, “A brain tumor caused her to lose her sight… at the beginning, I had no idea that a blind person’s world is so completely different.” Zhang’ Ziyi’s role also allowed her to showcase her talented dancing, a discipline she has trained in since age eleven.


HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS is a story about passion and love. It may be a martial arts film, but it is also a timeless, romantic love story. The film describes an emotional journey of love and passion. You will see how three people suffer because of love, and the pain they endure because of it. Love tears us apart, yet we are willing to sacrifice everything for love.
When a woman is torn between two men, we know that this will end in tragedy. The dynamics of the relationships between three very different people with different backgrounds are intriguing. The only thing they all have in common is that nobody is who they claim to be. Everyone is deceiving each other. In Chinese, we say that “Love, Hate, Passion and Vengeance” are the most volatile emotions, and it is these feelings that envelope the three main characters.

As a setting, the bamboo forest is inextricably linked to martial arts films. Ang Lee shot scenes for ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ in a bamboo forest – in fact, for the past fifty years, everybody has shot action in a bamboo forest. It is as though you have to fight in the bamboo forest before you can be considered a true warrior. So of course, if I was going to make an action film, I also had to shoot in the bamboo forest, to keep with tradition. But I insisted on making the bamboo forest scene my own. I made each scene a little different. In my bamboo forest, the battle takes place simultaneously on the ground and high up on the bamboo. The two lovers on the run fight on the ground while the enemy attacks them from above.

The snow [in Ukraine] came very early this year – in October. It began to snow heavily when we were half way through a sequence, and this worried me a great deal because if it snowed for much longer, all the leaves on the trees will be gone, and we would face huge problems with continuity. I had to make a decision, and after some thought I decided to shoot in the snow. But because we had already begun shooting that scene, we had to make a lot of adjustments – to the script, the pace and so on. When I look at the way this sequence turned out, I feel enormously lucky. The snow created the perfect tone for the scene. It’s fate – someone up above decided to help me out.
For the Peony Pavilion, we built a very elaborate set to showcase Mei and Leo’s ‘Echo Game’, but when you see HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, you will realize that the fighting, the action, the visual effects all take the back seat to the emotional journey – the fate – of the three main characters. Ultimately, movies are about people regardless of genre or style.

To me, this is not your ordinary martial arts film. This is a love story wrapped inside an action film. Jin and Mei only spend three days together, but during this time, they loved fiercely, and in the end, tragically. There is no way to explain their love. If you can explain it, then it is not love. Perhaps three seconds is all we need to find true love. Thirty years together does not equal a deeper connection. Many directors have told similar stories, but my concern is how people fall in love, and what we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of that love. For me, at the end of the day, love is a triumph of the human spirit.

Thanks to San Sebastian International Film Festival