Mei is an exotic, beautiful blind dancer, associated with a dangerous revolutionary gang, known
as the House of Flying Daggers. Captured by officers of the decadent Tang Dynasty, Mei finds
herself both threatened - and attracted - to the most unusual circumstances. Here, her heart
and loyalties battle each other, amid warriors in the treetops and dazzling combat - the likes of
which have never before been seen!
For more about House of Flying Daggers and the House of Flying Daggers Blu-ray release, see House of Flying Daggers Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on February 6, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
In the years since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon proved a crossover success, Sony has
brought a procession of artistic, narratively complex Chinese films to the silver screen. The genre
colorful sets, landscapes and fabrics with gravity-defying martial arts and endless plot twists.
These films have
met with limited critical success that sometimes achieved the accolades of Crouching Tiger
The most visible director in this genre is Yimou Zhang. Sandwiched between his most
ambitious and epic projects, Hero and Curse of the
Golden Flower, Zhang had a hit that was much smaller in scope: House of Flying
Daggers. It was just as big in color, aesthetic use
of sets, complex surprises and graceful, floating warriors, but it lacked the grandeur of the others.
Partially filmed in the forests of Ukraine during
the autumn snows, House of Flying Daggers achieved blockbuster status in Asia due
largely to the talented, all-star cast of Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau and Ziya Zhang. Zhang has
now achieved her due recognition in the U.S. with her performance in Memoirs of a
Bright red blood appears in sharp contrast to a blanched snowscape as Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro)
observes a dagger's graceful flight.
Set in the Tang dynasty, House of Flying Daggers tells the story of a mysterious, blind
dancer, Mei (Ziya Zhang), who appears to have a connection to a rebel movement. Her dancing
and fighting moves are impressive. Director Yimou Zhang further accentuates them with gravity-
defying tricks, not unlike the martial arts in his other films. Officers Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and
Leo (Andy Lau) hatch a plan to use Mei as bait to flush out the rebel gang, and together, Mei and
Jin set out across the countryside. There is no way to further divulge the plot without ruining its
surprises, but the narrative involves Yimou Zhang's usual themes of the complexity of love,
loyalty and loss.
Of more immediate interest to home theater fans, House of Flying Daggers also involves
eye-catching martial arts choreography and sets that prove a treat for the eyes. Powerful fighters
emerge from treetops. Blades dance through the air and return to their owners' hands. Ornate,
lush fabrics, sets and landscapes burst with color. These elements make the film very similar to
Curse of the
Golden Flower. Unfortunately, the source material or
transfer to 1080p is not as strong in House of Flying Daggers. While the story, direction,
cinematography and acting are comparable, the picture is much better in Zhang's later film.
Ironically, the acting is a touch stronger in House of Flying Daggers, but in both films,
the characters are portrayed quite clinically. This emotional detachment appears to be a hallmark
of Zhang's films, as he allows plot devices and conniving characters to complicate the audience's
ability to connect.
The picture appears noisy, with less definition than we are accustomed to seeing on Blu-ray disc.
Despite the 1080p, MPEG-2 encoding, the video appears more like a noisy, upscaled NTSC. Easily,
the best attribute of the picture is the vibrancy of the color. But it seems that somewhere in
production it went a bit overboard in bathing the forest scenes in green and in adding excessive
contrast, which may have contributed to the impact of the noise. It certainly is distracting and
hard to ignore, and that's coming from a reviewer who often appreciates a certain amount of
video noise as giving the illusion of real film, if it gives the illusion of "undigitized" noise. As for the
grainy elements, they did not necessarily appear to have that analog softness associated with film
grain. Instead, I detected a digital element to the noise that was a bit "hard", as if sharpness had
been overly applied. Granted, the problem would not bother most viewers, but for videophiles, it
detracts from the enjoyment even during the most stunning imagery and action.
The climactic snowscape scene--particularly the sequence in slow motion--is a prime example.
When the camera pulls in tight on the characters, the video problems are forgivable because each
individual snowflake and details on the characters' faces and clothes are easily resolved. But when
the camera pulls back to reveal the entire landscape, it's a mess. One can not discern the snow
from the video noise. The depth and definition of the picture is all but destroyed. The poor quality
compared to most 1080p productions is even more frustrating considering the gorgeous
characters, colors, cinematography and countryside framed perfectly by Zhang's gifted eye. The
heavy contrast, no doubt a choice during digital postproduction, at first glance serves to add
vibrancy to the colors, but on closer inspection mainly flattens the picture and drown out
important depth and detail. What should have been a gorgeous picture seemed noisy, flat and a
The lossless PCM 5.1 track, in Cantonese, emerges in superb definition that provides a solid
soundstage. If only it could fix the problems with the picture. Dialog, sound effects and surround
cues are rendered with good top-end extension. Nowhere is this more apparent than the famous
opening scene set in an ornate brothel, the Peony Pavilion. The blind Mei participates in a sort of
exotic dance routine called "The Echo Game". She is surrounded by drums mounted on sticks and
must use the overly long sleeves of her ornamental clothing to repeat the drum strikes. Part kung
fu, part ballet, Mei's moves echo each drum strike with flawless execution and audio cues. The
viewer feels immersed in the scene more by the sounds than the picture.
The bonus material is largely lacking on this BD, even compared to the DVD release. Sony has since
stepped up its game in the supplements department, but this early release was a bit of a let-down.
The commentary track available on the DVD is unavailable on the Blu-ray. Worse, many of the
featurettes are MIA. The most important supplementary material included is "Creating the Visual
Effects", which is interesting but lacks depth at only four minutes running time. Cursory storyboard
comparisons are also included, but these do not provide much insight either.
House of Flying Daggers is an important film by virtue of its popular actors, gorgeous
scenery, vibrant color palette and legendary scenes: the blizzard showdown, "The Echo Game" and
the bamboo forest fight. Unfortunately the plot twists, slow-motion sequences and direction
miscues account for a detachment from the characters and the film fails on multiple levels. That
could be forgiven because of Zhang's use of camera, movement, space and subject matter that
ultimately become art. If only the Blu-ray delivered a detailed picture, I would recommend this film.
Instead I can't advocate a purchase for anyone but serious Ziya Zhang and Yimou Zhang fans, who
don't mind excess video noise in the picture.
Blu-ray bundles with House of Flying Daggers (2 bundles)
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