Movie review: House of Flying Daggers (2004)

House of Flying Daggers is your standard Chinese action movie. The story is set in early medieval China around 859 CE when the famous Tang Dynasty was in its decline—sword play, martial arts, fight scenes, rebellion, romance abound.

House of Flying Daggers refers to an organized anti-government society. Low-level government officials are originally tasked with destroying the group. The rebel leader had been killed but his blind daughter is rumored to be in the area. The assignment of two government officials (Leo and Jin) is to find and capture her.

Through elaborate tricks and double-tricks and triple-tricks, Jin sets out to befriend a woman who is presumed to be the blind daughter. In numerous fight scenes, Mei gives a convincing performance of being the woman they are looking for.

Only she isn’t. Jin isn’t the only one pretending to be something he is not. As it turns out, she is not blind. And she is not the recently assassinated rebel leader’s daughter. She is a decoy to lure the government into a trap.

Leo isn’t what he seems either. He is a stooge for the House of Flying Daggers, a spy for them in the government. He loves Mei and has been separated from her for three long years. His love turns to anger when he discovers that Mei has fallen in love with Jin and out of love with him.

He attempts to rape Mei but is stopped by the leader of the House of Flying Daggers who chastises him with the words “You can’t force a woman against her will.” His anger only increases and simmers as he is sent back to his role as government spy.

I was struck by this scene. The theme of strong women and their rights to bodily integrity that I have witnessed in other modern Chinese action films is a welcome change. In the end though, Mei is killed by Leo. Restraint of violence against women can only be curtailed so far, it seems. The message from House of the Flying Daggers: While raping a lover is frowned upon, a spurned lover killing the object of his obsession is still OK.

House of Flying Daggers centers on the relationship of Jin and Mei as they flee from government soldiers. Neither are who they seem, but the organizations that they are a part of aren’t either. Mei, Jin, and Leo are simply cogs in organizations greater than them that merely use them and do not exist for their wellbeing—a damning commentary of rebellious organizations…and the government.

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