After striking cinematic gold with 2003's Hero, Zhang Yimou's appetite for the swordplay film was significantly wetted for him to follow up that success with another entry into the genre.
Eschewing the wire-work enhanced action of Hero, for a more gravity-obeying approach, Yimou's story is also far more straight-forward than its predecessor.
Government agents Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau) are intent on ridding the land of the Flying Daggers - a sect whose Robin Hood-esque stealing from the rich to feed the poor has thrown the government into turmoil.
The actual House of Flying Daggers of the film's title is one which has yet to be infiltrated, but after a tip-off that a young girl (Zhang Ziyi) working in a brothel could be the old leader's daughter, Jim and Leo decide that this could be their ideal opportunity.
Jim, using his irresistible charm, good looks, and exceptional fighting skills, rescues the courtesan after her imprisonment, with only one thing in mi nd...finding the whereabouts of the House of Flying Daggers.
Viewer's of Hero will not be surprised to hear that Hang Imo's character's are not what they first appear, and by the finale's snow-storm battered conclusion, love and loyalties have both been tested to their limits.
I thought it impossible, but Flying Dagger's cinematography manages to better Hero's eye-searing beauty. Each frame appears to crafted as if painted by hand, and it will be some time before such lush photography is surpassed.
However, aside from the lavish look of the film, some incredible Chiang Suiting choreographed swordplay, and a strident music score, I have to say I was somewhat under-whelmed.
The dynamic which Yimou created so effectively between his characters in Hero is sadly absent here, as the three leads never quite convince in their roles.
The film is certainly engaging, but its central romantic theme is weakened by the lack of chemistry between the actors.
Zhang Zhiyi, helped ever so slightly by the sumptuous lighting and costumes utilized throughout, is as stunning as ever, whilst both Kaneshiro and Lau do well in pulling off the complicated action sequences.
However, as the storyline unfolded I found myself increasingly distanced from the characters, and more taken by the soundtrack and images unfurling on-screen.
By the film's conclusion, and after some rather obvious plot twists (plus a seemingly never-ending death sequence) the final credits roll I struggled to decide if I was pleased, disappointed or somewhere in between.
The use of CGI is also one which will raise debates. At times it is used with real aplomb, and heightens sequences as it did in Hero. At others, particularly when used to simulate geysers of blood, it looks horribly tacky.
And that is House of Flying Daggers in a nutshell - a film which flatters to deceive, but doesn't do it well enough for you to feel particularly contented at its conclusion.
For a film which looks, to quote my viewing buddy, "exquisite", Edko's second attempt at capturing this beauty is almost a complete success.
There is a small amount of grain evident at points throughout the feature, but this is rarely more than a fleeting occurrence.
Colours are gorgeous, and are complimented by the sharp, Anamorphic detail levels throughout.
Blacks are also keenly detailed, and the whole thing has a lovely crispness about it - certainly a disc to show off to your friends.
DTS 6.1 ES sound is the order of the day on this two-disc package, and is loud, aggressively mixed and in a word, fantastic.
There are numerous moments when the surrounds kick in, the bass rumbles and the hairs on the back of your neck are raised in response.
The soundtrack is every bit as good as Hero's, and features some immensely moving compositions.
Mandarin is not a language which I either speak or understand, so checking the validity of translations is somewhat difficult.
However, the subtitles feature very little of what you would class as Westernised dialogue, and apart from a word which appears when nothing is said, are extremely good.
The lack of any grammar or spelling errors also goes to highlight the high standard kept throughout.
This 2-disc set is very much the same as Hero's - some good extras, but sadly a lack of English subtitles renders many of them rather pointless:
Dance In Peony Pavillion, Fight Beside Peony Pool, Rescue From The Jail, Ride Through the Forest, Fight In the Flower Field, Capture In The Bamboo Forest.
Cast & Crew
Zhang Yimou, Li Feng, Wang Bin, Bill Kong, Zhao Xiaoding, Tony Ching Siu-Tung, Huo Ting- Xiao, Tao Jing, Shigeru Umebaashi, Emi Wada, Cheng Long, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Song Dan-Dan.
Costume Gallery Prop Gallery, Setting Gallery, Photo Gallery.
(Select the hat of the women on the far left of the main menu/push Down when selecting Cast & Crew)
2 Theatrical Trailers
Theme Song "Lovers" Music Video
Andy Lau In The Dubbing Studio
Maybe those who found Hero's twisting storyline, and equally twisting, high-flying martial arts somewhat hard to follow, will appreciate House Of Flying Daggers more straight forward approach. I though felt slightly cheated by the plot's rather predictable turns, and the overly theatrical ending which was just one step too far.
Yimou appears to have fallen in love with how his film looks, and in the process robbed his audience of the chance to fall in love with his characters.
Certainly one of the best looking films of recent years, but in this instance, beauty only runs skin-deep...