Cross-Cultural Perspectives: China
Ziyi in House of Flying Daggers. Courtesy of

Cross-Cultural Perspectives: China's House of Flying Daggers

A Chinese movie zine looks at Zhang Yimou's newest martial arts barnstromer through the eyes of mega-starlet Zhang Ziyi...

By Junie Quah

"Blind Girl: Zhang Ziyi's Sword Dance"
trans. by: Junie Quah

After the movies The Road Home and Jasmine Women, the House of Flying Daggers is Zhang Yimou's third movie with actress Zhang Ziyi. As the female protagonist, Zhang Ziyi's role is a blind dancer, which is something really new in her acting career. In her first scene in the movie, she performs a great dance movement, "Pebble Lead," from the Peony Pavilion. This dance movement is a combination of the Tang traditional dance and the thrills of martial arts. The scene will definitely become a classic in the history of Chinese movies.

Zhang Ziyi's appearance in the movie is like a typical beauty in the Tang dynasty. Her dance movement stuns the audience in the opening scene. In the film, Zhang Ziyi is the daughter of the leader of the House of Flying Daggers. To avenge the death of her father, she suffers great inconvenience to become a dancer. Being part of the ongoing murder investigation of the House of Flying Daggers, Captain Andy Lau suspects the real identity of Zhang Ziyi's dancer. He asks, "As a girl who is blind, what is your capability to become a dancer in the Peony Pavilion?" Zhang Ziyi smiles and answers, "I know more than you would expect." Andy Lau then wanted her to perform the dance movement, "Pebble Lead." Therefore, he grabs a bean and throws it to the direction of the row of drums. The bean hits one of the drums, and just then the blind Zhang Ziyi throws her ribbon and hits it on the same drum.

The scene creates a bit of a climax in the movie. Zhang Ziyi uses her elegant dance movement to follow and hit the different drums, as Andy Lau leads her with a bean. Even though he tries to confuse her, and grabs a bunch of the beans to hit the drum, Zhang Ziyi is still able to react gracefully to the movements. In the meantime, she uses her ribbon to pull Andy Lau's sword and tries to kill him with it. The attempts she makes, and the quick reaction from Andy Lau definitely leaves the audience breathless.

Ever since she was 11 years old, Zhang Ziyi learned Chinese traditional dance, continuing for six years, and establishing a good foundation for dancing. Two months before the shooting of the House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Ziyi followed strict instructions and worked hard to ensure the best performance possible in the actual filming. The dance scene was incredible, but Zhang Ziyi felt that she had to also put in extra effort in playing her role as a blind girl. Her preparation for this role was to stay with a girl who lost her eyesight due to brain tumor. They lived together for two months.

Zhang Ziyi said, "Except for going to the restrooms, I was with her every single day. It helped me a lot with my acting. I was very unsure about this role at first, as the 'blind world' is very different from ours. I had to learn everything from the very beginning. At first, I was just trying to play pretend. However, as I slowly picked up the feel of the role, it became much easier. It is hard to play the role as a blind person. It requires thinking and analyzing to make it look real."

House of Flying Daggers has allowed Zhang Ziyi to go from being just a "celebrity" to a real actress.

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