China’s Zhang Yimou is a great film director, but House of Flying Daggers (2004) is no Ju Dou or To Live or Not One Less. These films are gripping successes, whereas the ’04 effort is a mildly serious entertainment with the absurd action of the cheap 1980s Hong Kong fare.
It’s ingeniously made, visually spellbinding, but Zhang should not have gone the Crouching Tiger route. Purveyed is a sagging story about the female member of a rebel group, the House of Flying Daggers, and the guardian captain who is in fact a government agent. A flatly superficial period piece, it belongs to a genre which isn’t big enough for Zhang. Lovely women, particularly Ziyi Zhang, are too Amazon-like, as physically superhuman as the men, and we wonder how it can be that both men and women here are even destructible. Their martial arts are god-like, you see. The climax is as nicely, darkly tragic as the climaxes of many other Zhang films, but it hardly prevents Daggers from being a bold nonentity.