Current user rating: 94/100 (130 votes)
- Movie: House of Flying Daggers
- Chinese: Shi mian mai fu
- Director: Zhang Yimou
- Writer: Feng Li, Bin Wang
- Release Date: May 19, 2004
- Runtime: 119 min
- Language: Mandarin
- Country: Hong Kong / China
It is 859AD, and the Tang Dynasty, one of the most enlightened empires in
Chinese history at its height, 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 have 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 the local deputies, their bitter enemies.
The deputies are enraged because, 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.
Captain Leo has heard that one of the new dancers at the Peony Pavilion, a
local brothel, is a member of the House of Flying Daggers. So, he sends
Captain Jin to the Pavilion undercover, to search her out. When the Madam
(SONG DANDAN) presents Jin with Mei (ZIYI ZHANG), the beautiful new
dancer, he is surprised to learn that she is blind.
Nevertheless, Jin goes forward with the plan – Mei begins to dance for him,
and Jin pretends to be drunk and attacks her, trying to rip her clothes off. Leo
then charges in, threatening to arrest both Jin and Mei for their indecent
behavior. The Madam begs Leo to spare Mei, as she relies on her to bring in
customers, and asks that he at least watch her dance before he makes a
At Leo’s request, Mei performs an elaborate dance called The Echo Game,
which reaches a stunning climax when Mei reveals herself to be a member of
the House of Flying Daggers and challenges Leo with his own sword. Mei is an
impressive fighter, despite her lack of sight, and the two engage in a fierce
battle – but Leo eventually triumphs, and arrests Mei.
Mei is put through an interrogation, and threatened with instruments of torture,
but she refuses to divulge any information about the House of Flying Daggers.
The two Captains become convinced that Mei is the blind daughter of the
Flying Daggers’ old leader, and are determined to get information from her, so
they 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 the two set out into the forest, pursued by the deputies at
every turn. Mei is suspicious of “Wind” at first, but when the two are caught in
an ambush, and he uses his skills with a bow and arrow to swiftly kill four
deputies and save her life, Mei begins to trust him.
When Mei and Jin leave the scene, and the deputies get up and remove the
arrows from where they were lodged in their clothes, we realize this battle was
staged for her benefit, but a long journey with real danger still lies ahead.
As they travel through the forest, Jin and Mei begin to warm to each other.
Before long, Mei has developed feelings for her enigmatic protector, and Jin is
surprised to find himself falling for Mei’s headstrong charm. Both struggle to
contain their feelings, but their desire is irrepressible, almost beyond their
control, and they soon end up locked in an embrace. Still wary of each other’s
motives, their suspicions keep them from letting it go too far.
Jin sneaks away to meet with Leo, who is worried that he is being taken in by
Mei’s beauty and charm. Jin assures him, unconvincingly, that this is not the
case, and returns to Mei.
The two are soon lost in another romantic moment – he is picking wildflowers
for her in a field – when two soldiers sneak up on them. Jin tries to fend them
off and protect himself and Mei by covertly explaining to the soldiers that he on
their side, but they are not privy to Jin and Leo’s plan. More soldiers soon
arrive to back them up, and Mei and Jin are forced to fight for their lives. Just
when it seems as if all is lost for them, Jin and Mei are saved by the flying
daggers of a mysterious stranger.
They are then able to turn things in their favor, and defeat the remaining
soldiers. But when the battle is over, Jin is devastated – realizing that he is
now caught between his loyalty to his comrades and defending his and Mei’s
lives. Mei senses his sadness, and tries to comfort him with passionate
kisses, telling him that she now believes he is “for real”. Worried for his safety,
she tells him that he has done enough for her and that he should leave her on
her own, but he insists on staying.
Jin sneaks off again to meet with Leo, eager to know why he was ambushed.
Leo tells him that the soldiers were ordered by the General – that he has
decreed that real blood must be spilt in order to draw the Flying Daggers out.
Jin is crushed when he realizes how little his life means to those he serves,
and the two men argue – both tortured by the mission they have taken on. Jin
storms off, telling Leo that he is quitting.
When Jin returns to Mei, they argue as well, as she is suspicious about where
he has been. The argument ends with Mei riding off on her own. Jin begins
to ride away, but he can’t bring himself to part with Mei. He turns around and
chases after her, with soldiers quickly closing in on her from the opposite
Mei is trapped in the bamboo forest, valiantly fighting off a group of soldiers,
when Jin arrives and joins the fight at her side. Jin and Mei struggle against
the solders, and are close to defeat when the Flying Daggers – led by Madam
of the Peony Pavilion – come to their rescue.
Jin is shocked to realize that the Madam was undercover, and even more
surprised when she tells him that the Flying Daggers want him to marry Mei.
The moment he consents, Jin is tied up and treated as a prisoner. Leo is
brought in as well, and it becomes clear that the Flying Daggers have been
aware of their plot all along.
The revelations continue when Mei walks in and pours a cup of tea for the
Madam without any hesitation, making it clear that she is not blind at all. Jin
is devastated, and asks her if it was all just an act. She explains that she is
not the old leader’s daughter, and is just one of the many girls in the House of
Meanwhile, the Madam takes Leo out to the bamboo forest, and just when it
seems as if she is going to finish him off, she slices his ropes open with her
sword and sets him free. She explains that she knows that the old leader
planted him as a mole in the government, and that Nia, the new leader,
appreciates what he and Mei have done for the Flying Daggers.
It is revealed that Leo and Mei had a relationship in the past, and this mission
is the first time they have seen each other in three years. Leo is angry that he
was forced to see the woman he loves seducing Jin. The Madam explains that
they are facing an epic battle that will decide the fate of the Flying Daggers,
and that it is not the time for romance. Nevertheless, she consents to let Leo
Leo tells Mei how much he missed her and that he still loves her. She thanks
him for saving her – it was his flying daggers that rescued her and Jin in the
field – but, when he tries to embrace her, Mei pushes him away. When Leo
asks if she loves Jin, and Mei doesn’t answer, the truth is clear to them both.
Leo vainly tries to convince Mei that there can be nothing between her and Jin,
but then becomes violent in his advances toward her. As Mei struggles to
push him away, a dagger flies in and stabs him in the shoulder. Nia, the
leader of the Flying Daggers, appears and tells him that she is sending him
back to the government to continue spying. Nia tells Mei that she has a task
for her as well – she orders her to kill Jin, as he is no longer of use to them.
Mei takes Jin out into the field to kill him, but she cannot do it. She sets him
free and they make love passionately in the grass. When it is over, she tells
him to leave, but he does not want to go without her. She tells him that it is
impossible for them to be together – that the next time meet, one of them will
have to die.
Jin begs her to come with him, and they joke in hopeful tones about being
together one day. At the other end of the field, Jin realizes he cannot bear to
part with Mei, and turns back to find her.
Jin discovers Mei lying in the grass, bleeding and close to death. As he holds
her in his arms, Leo comes at him from behind. Jin is suddenly faced with the
truth the Leo is not his comrade after all, but a member of the Flying Daggers,
as well as his rival for Mei’s affections.
As the government soldiers advance upon the Flying Daggers, Jin and Leo
engage in their own epic battle, one so fierce that the seasons change from
brilliant autumn to cruel winter.
Jin is on the verge of defeat when Mei rises from the ground, kept alive by
Leo’s dagger, which is preventing the blood from draining from her body. She
tells Leo that is he kills Jin, she will rip out the dagger and kill him with it. Jin
begs her not to sacrifice herself, but when Leo pretends to throw his dagger at
Jin, Mei rips out the dagger and throws it at Leo, missing him when it bounces
off a tree. Leo watches Mei die in Jin’s arms, with snow falling all around
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