House of Flying Daggers
Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers is a Wuxia film that unarguable stays true to the general conventions of Wuxia yet, at times, deviate from them to give way to Yimou’s own signature style. Much emphasis is given to pay tribute to Wuxia and Yimou’s auteristic reliance on mise-en-scene and cinematography. The use of certain elements of mise-en-scene and cinematography contribute to characterization and story development. However, it should be mentioned that though there are indicators of characterization and storyline progress, they fall short of expectation, as Yimou relies heavily on sensory stimulation above all else.
House of Flying Daggers is set in 859 AD when the Tang Dynasty’s power is declining, and rebel factions have begun to grow in number and strength. The most powerful of these factions is the House of Flying Daggers. Two police officers, Leo and Jin, are ordered to weaken the House of Flying Daggers by killing its new leader within ten days. What succeeds is a deceiving plan by these officers to infiltrate the House. The plan is that Jin, under an alias (Wind), must befriend Mei, the blind dancer who works at the brothel and is suspected to be the daughter of the old leader of the House. To accomplish this, Jin rescues Mei from prison and slowly gains her trust, as she finally leads him to the headquarters of the House of Flying Daggers. When Jin successfully infiltrates the House, it is revealed that Mei has been deceiving him all along, as she is not the blind daughter and has known that Jin is a police officer. Moreover, Leo, Jin’s partner, reveals himself as to actually being part of the House of Flying Daggers. So, all along, while Jin thinks that he is doing the deception, it has been Mei and Leo. The real conflict though does not center so much on the twists and turns as much as it focuses on the love triangle that forms between Mei, Jin, and Leo. Leo is in love with Mei, but Mei falls for Jin, who in turn falls for her as well (despite the fact that they are supposed to be enemies). Mei is ordered to kill Jin but is not able to, and instead chases after Jin. Enraged by jealousy, Leo harms Mei. The story concludes by the final climactic battle between Leo and Jin. In the end, Mei sacrifices her life for Jin’s welfare.
The film is of the particularly distinct Chinese Wuxia (literal translation from Mandarin is “martial arts chivalry”) genre. Wuxia is a combination of Wushu fighting style (especially swordfights) and the Xia philosophy (martial arts philosophy that emphasizes the act of chivalry and heroism), ergo the term Wuxia.[i]
Wuxia stories are often rooted in adventure and mystery set in ancient China, such as that of House of Flying Daggers. These stories highlight the heroism and chivalry of characters through superhuman martial arts abilities, such as flying, scaling walls, and using everyday objects as weapons. Obviously, there is a “suspension of disbelief”, where it becomes hard to differentiate between reality and fantasy, feasibility and improbability. [ii]
The central characters are Jin, Leo, and Mei. Jin is a police officer ordered to infiltrate the House of Flying Daggers by befriending and gaining the trust of Mei, who is suspected of being the daughter of the old rebel leader. Mei, on the other hand, is (or rather appears to be) a blind dancer at the brothel. She reveals later on that she is not a blind dancer and has known of Jin’s plan all along. Meanwhile, Leo works as a police officer, but later reveals that he is part of the House and has been orchestrating the capture of Jin. The three main characters form a love triangle, which ensues in the final battle that ends with Mei’s sacrificing her life for Jin. Jin is played by actor Takeshi Kaneshiro, while Leo is played by Andy Lau, and finally, Mei is played by Zhang Ziyi.
Since House of Flying Daggers is very much...