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Film / House of Flying Daggers

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House of Flying Daggers (original title: 十面埋伏) is a Wuxia movie directed by Zhang Yimou, with action scenes choreographed by Ching Siu-tung, released in 2004. Zhang had previously directed another Wuxia flick, Hero (2002), and wanted to explore the genre further. He would later direct Curse of the Golden Flower.

The story, set in the waning days of the Tang Dynasty (9th century CE), depicts a love triangle between two soldiers and a young woman suspected of being an agent of a secret society, the titular House of Flying Daggers.

The film stars Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau.

Contains examples of:

  • Blade on a Rope: An improvised version is briefly used in the film. During the "echo game" with Leo, one of Mei's long twin scarves whips around the handle of his sword and yanks it out of the sheath. Mei attacks him with it, swinging the sword on the scarf while Leo dodges.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Downplayed. Anybody fighting 4 or more Mooks needs to get bailed out (usually Just in Time).
  • Cover-Blowing Superpower:
    • Very, very subtle: when Mei is being chased by guards in the forest near the beginning of the movie, notice how close the trees are together. Any blind person would have run into at least several trees—Mei doesn't. This shows that she isn't blind.
    • Mei also visibly slips up once: when she nearly trips and falls onto the sharpened bamboo stakes in the clearing, Jin yanks her back. She takes a rapid glance around the clearing and then goes back to having a blank expression.
  • Damsel in Distress: Surprisingly Mei. She's nearly raped by Jin in the first 5 minutes, rescued by Jin several times, etc. It's all an act, as she's actually the one manipulating him by feigning helplessness and getting him to feel sincerely protective of her, in order to lead to his eventual capture.
  • Downer Ending: Leo fools Mei into giving her life to protect Jin with a faked knife throw in Jin's direction. Mei bleeds out from her wounds while Jin cradles her with grief, and Leo limps away, presumably to either assume a new life or die alone somewhere else. The gambit to provoke a confrontation between the army and the rebels was successful, but the three protagonists are either dead or broken. The end.
  • Elite Mook: Practically everybody is insanely skilled. Even random unnamed soldiers are so good they can build a cage with thrown bamboo rods.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: The last thirty minutes reveals that Mei is not blind, Leo works for the Flying Daggers, and is also in love with Mei.
  • Gambit Pile Up: Jin is an officer pretending as a rebel. Mei is an acolyte pretending as her master's blind daughter by pretending as a dancer. Leo is a rebel pretending to be an officer being fooled by Jin's scheme...
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: There isn't much to tell one side from the other in terms of ethics. By the end Leo is certainly on the darker side of the scale, but even then is not entirely unsympathetic. He stayed devoted to Mei through three years of separation, and she fell in love with someone else after three days, despite those being probably being the last days they would have to spend apart if the plan had succeeded. He even says that she could have told him she didn't love him anymore, but her falling for Jin is just too much for him to bear.
  • Handicapped Badass: Subverted. Mei is certainly a badass, but it turns out she isn't blind.
  • In Love with the Mark: Jin believes he is leading Mei on to set an ambush for the House of Flying Daggers, but falls for her anyway. In actuality, Mei is misleading Jin for the same purpose on the opposing side, but also falls in love with him.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Mei kisses Jin passionately after he kills the government soldiers (as opposed to faking it, earlier).
  • Love Ruins the Realm: Referenced in-story by Mei's song.
    An extraordinary beauty in the North
    The most beautiful being in the world
    With her first glance she submits a city
    With her second glance she ruins an empire
    But there is neither empire nor city
    That we can laud more than this beauty
  • Made of Iron: The only explanation for the absolutely insane resistance to injury Jin and Leo seem to display: to wit, Leo taking a dagger through the back and the multitude of wounds they inflict on one another during the final fight.
  • Obfuscating Disability: While the Flying Dagger's former leader did have a blind daughter, Mei is not her. She was only pretending to be the blind heiress as a cover.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome:
    • The final showdown between the army and the rebels remains entirely offscreen.
    • Also, once it's revealed that Mei isn't really blind, we never get to see her cut loose in a fight (since she doesn't need to fake any kind of helplessness anymore).
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Zig-zagged furiously at the ending. Leo is hit in the back with an non-fatal Flying Dagger, is told to go back to his position as a guard (and that the dagger will make his story more convincing), and it doesn't seem to bother him at all, including when he kills Mei with a dagger to the heart. After Jin returns for her, he finds her just fading away, and Leo attacks him. While they fight and cut each other to ribbons, she wakes up, just when Leo pulls the knife out of his back to throw at Jin. She says that if he does, she'll pull the knife out of her heart to kill Leo. Jin points out that if she does, she'll bleed out and die. Leo pretends to throw his knife, she throws hers to block his, and dies. Leo staggers away while Jin holds her in his arms.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: Jin peeps on Mei as she bathes in a pond. She's aware of it but doesn't mind.
  • Pinball Projectile: This is most notable when a knife can bounce off a shield, fly away, keep spinning, then double back again. Twice.
  • The Plan: Mei's capture and escape were part of a convoluted plot to bring about a massive showdown between the loyalist forces and those of the House of Flying Daggers.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Leo accomplished his mission to perfection, but still lost everything along the way and wound up killing the person he loved most.
  • Revealing Hug: Happens when Leo professes his love for Mei. Behind his back, her expression is completely blank.
  • Rule of Cool: The titular "flying daggers," which at times pull dramatic u-turns in mid-air.
  • Scenery Porn: Zhang Yimou's signature style is an overload of lush backgrounds, to the point of chromatic saturation.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: In the film's closing moments, Mei pulls a knife from her own body, and uses it to block a knife thrown at Jin. However, it's revealed that Leo's knife was never thrown, thus meaning she killed herself for nothing.
  • Snow Means Death: In the very finale, where the plot has led to a Duel to the Death, it begins snowing. Neither Jin nor Leo die onscreen, but Mei ultimately gives her life believing that she is protecting Jin.
  • Snow Means Love: At the end, he holds the girl in the snow as she bleeds out (overlaps with Snow Means Death).
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Mei dresses up as a boy warrior after her escape from jail.
  • Talent Double: Zhang Ziyi does much of her own dancing, but all of the leaps and acrobatic stunts in the Echo Dance are performed by a double.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: At different points, Jin and Mei both throw their swords to deflect spears/daggers coming at them.
  • Waif-Fu: Zhang Ziyi has made a good living playing badass chicks while weighing about 95 lbs. Played with somewhat in this film in that Mei's able to survive hand-to-hand combat, but without a weapon in hand isn't able to actually make much of difference against her opponents.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Happens at the end of the Echo Dance when Mei turns her sleeves into Combat Tentacles and attacks the Captain.
    • And even bigger with Mei pouring tea, revealing that she isn't blind.
    • Mei is riding through the woods; a dagger comes flying out at her and she throws her sword to block it. The camera pans to show that it was actually two daggers thrown in tandem, and her sword only blocked one...
    • The final Arrow Cam is a double, revealing that she didn't try to kill Leo in vengeance, but rather block Leo's knife throw... as well as the fact that Leo didn't even throw the knife, Mei just gave her life to block a harmless droplet of blood, is a Wham Shot designed to be as tragic as possible.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Slight variant, with Leo yelling at Mei, after throwing a dagger into her chest, claiming flat-out that she made him kill her, due to her new found love for Jin.