House of Flying Daggers 《十面埋伏》 《佳人歌》

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

In the movie 十面埋伏 (House of Flying Daggers) , there's is this song 佳人歌 (The Beauty Song), which is a poem written around 80 BCE, and is used as the main theme of the film. Here's the lyrics.


Beauty Song
Translation: 李杀 (Xah Lee)

In the North there's a beauty,
Stunning and singular.
One look confounds a city;
A touch dooms an empire.
Rather not wishing to know,
 the ruination that may follow.
Rare beauty is here and now.

This song is sung by the actress 章子怡 (Zhang Ziyi) (born 1979) herself in the film.

House of Flying Daggers, The Beauty Song Buy House Flying Daggers movie

This is a gravely beautiful poem, perhaps the most beautiful in praising the beauty of a woman.

The English translation in the DVD i'm watching goes thus:

a rare beauty in the North, she's the finest lady on earth
a glance from her, the whole city goes down
a second glance leaves the nation in ruins
there exists no city or nation, that has been more cherished
than a beauty like this.

This translation does not do the poem justice. It's rather crude and rash, and missing meanings and the sublime and weight of the poem's essence.

Wikipedia on Li Yannian (李延年) gives this translation, which i think is faithful to the original and high quality.

In the north there is a beauty:
Surpassing the world, she stands alone.
A glance from her will overthrow a city;
A second glance will overthrow the State.
Don't I know she can overthrow the city and the State?
But such a beauty cannot be found again!

Here are some Screenshots from the movie:

house of flying daggers 013
This dance scene in the beginning of the film is the cream of the movie.
house of flying daggers hq3
Note the florid and elaborate dress. Also note the extremely ornate Chinese setting. I wonder, if the setting reflects any genuine Chinese palace in the past in terms of richness or style, or, was it purely a fictional fancy. Also note the gorgeous parquetry or paint on the floor, and the delicate rose deco in each and every drum. (are these drums pure fiction? i think i've never touched the concept of drums with painted face)
house of flying daggers hq9
Note the beautiful, delicate costume. In particular, the mathematics of weaving of the hat.

References and Sources

Kathleen Battle ♪ Lovers

Another beautiful song in this movie, is one called Lovers, sung by Kathleen Battle.

Kathleen Battle - “Lovers” Buy at amazon
Kathleen Battle

There was a field in my old town,
Where we always played hand in hand.
The wind was gently touching the grass,
We were so young so fearless.

Then I dreamt over and over,
of you holding me tight under the stars.
I made a promise to my dear Lord,
I will love you forever.

Time has passed,
So much has changed.
But the field remains in my heart,
Oh where are you?

I need to tell you I still love you,
So I reach out for you.
You fly around me like a butterfly.

Your voice still echoes in my heart,
You are my true love.

There was a field in my old town,
Where in spring all flowers blossomed wide.
We were chasing butterflies,
Hand in hand 'til close of day.

Your voice still echoes in my heart.

Though, the lyrics has little to do with the film, and little poetic quality.


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