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Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

Gordon Liu and Jet Li in Tsui Hark's Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.
AKA: The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate Inn
Chinese: 龍門飛甲
Year: 2011
Director: Tsui Hark
Producer: Tsui Hark, Nansun Shi, Jeffrey Chan

Tsui Hark, Hoh Kei-Ping, Chu Nga-Lai


Yuen Bun, Sun Jian-Kui, Allen Lan Hai-Han

Cast: Jet Li, Zhou Xun, Aloys Chen, Guey Lun-Mei, Mavis Fan Hsiao-Shuan, Li Yuchun, Louis Fan Siu-Wong, Sheng Chien, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Du Yi-Heng, Wu Di, Zhang Xinyu, Sun Jian-Kui
  The Skinny: The Master stays the master, even if the film itself is not among his best. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is an entertaining update of silly 1990s wuxias, with good action, fun characters, decent CGI and excellent 3D effects. It doesn't add up to much, but we'll take it.
by Kozo:

Everything old is new yet again in Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. A 3D remake-reimagining-sequel to King Hu’s 1967 Dragon Inn and Raymond Lee’s 1992 New Dragon Inn (which Tsui produced), Flying Swords of Dragon Gate follows Tsui’s wildly successful Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame in removing the pretension abundant in 21st century wuxia, ditching the serious tone and grand romanticism that characterized the post-Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon genre landscape. Instead of epic tales of love and betrayal we get fab iconography and copious martial arts action, plus fun characters and loads of Tsui Hark’s dizzy, infectious energy. And we get 3D. We mustn’t forget the 3D.

Like the previous Dragon Inn films, Flying Swords deals with a fateful meeting at the remote Dragon Gate Inn, a seedy desert location where numerous jiang hu competitors meet for some tense treachery and martial arts mayhem. Previous to the inn action, outlaw warrior Zhao Huai'an (Jet Li) causes problems for the Ming Dynasty by taking out top men in the corrupt West and East Bureaus, two divisions of the government with unchecked power that answer solely to the Emperor. After Zhao takes out West Bureau's Wan Yulou (Gordon Liu), the East Bureau, led by super-powerful eunuch Yu Huatian (Aloys Chen) goes hunting for Zhao, but he nimbly stays out of sight. But there's another Zhao Huai'an out there: a mysterious masked female (Zhou Xun) with formidable martial arts skills using Zhao Huai’an’s name to also harass the Ming Dynasty.

The distaff Zhao takes under her wing refugee palace maid Su Huirong (Mavis Fan), who's wanted by Yu Huatian for pissing off Royal Concubine Wan (Zhang Xinyu). Their flight leads them to Dragon Gate Inn, of which the female Zhao has suspicious intimate knowledge. A "Black Inn" that sometimes features human flesh on its menu, the Dragon Gate Inn was rebuilt after being burnt down by its previous owner, who's since disappeared (Note: this means something). Now, the inn plays host to female Zhao and Su Huirong, a group of bandits led by tomboy Gu Shaotang (Li Yuchun) and Yu Huatian-lookalike Wind Blade (Aloys Chen again), the tattooed Princess Buludu (Guey Lun-Mei) and her Mongol warriors, and finally Yu Huatian's men (led by Sheng Chien), who arrive in search of Su Huirong. Lingering nearby is Zhao Huai'an himself, shadowing Yu Huatian in anticipation of whatever jiang hu intrigue is about to go down.

Action buoys Flying Swords greatly, the film relying on wirework, CGI and some well-choreographed sequences of the actors flailing at one another. Like Jet Li and Ching Siu-Tung’s CGI orgy Sorcerer and the White Snake, the action here is largely demonstrative, with little full-contact fighting. Instead, fluid posing and some CGI-enhanced weapon battles substitute for the hard stuff. The reliance on visual effects might sound like a turn off, but Tsui handles tech-enhanced action much better than Ching Siu-Tung does; Tsui paces his action with strong beats such that it doesn’t get monotonous, and the variety of the weapons used – axes, bows and arrows, swords, throwing daggers, razor-sharp thread – is very entertaining. Fast-cutting and moving camera are toned down from other Tsui efforts, which helps the 3D; Tsui takes care to adjust shot length and composition to make the most of his new 3D toys. The results are terrific. There’s plenty to admire in the 3D imagery, and while there are occasional money shots that shove something into your grill, the 3D is used so pervasively and in so many different ways that it seldom seems like a gimmick. Give Tsui Hark a hand – he did his 3D homework.

Production and effects are generally good, though the latter do get video gamey - especially during one sequence where two characters fight while flying around in a sandstorm. The scenes of intrigue in the inn are a bit taxing, requiring audiences to pay attention to faux alliances, real alliances, arch misdirection, double and triple crosses and just plain lying. The scenes are fun as they allow Tsui Hark to stretch his screwball comedy muscles. They’re not so fun in that they’re largely throwaway. Actually, much of Flying Swords is throwaway, from the generic wuxia plot to the underdeveloped characters to the perfunctory intrigue. The film does offer some interesting moments near the end, where the characters must choose between doing some good or running off with treasure, but there’s little emotion in the choices. It’s nice that Tsui avoids pretension with Flying Swords, but does the result have to be this disposable? 3D or not, this is a step down from Tsui Hark’s best.

But even slightly above-average Tsui Hark is light years better than most other directors’ work. Flying Swords has lesser stakes and less imagination than Detective Dee, but it’s still good, clean fun. It’s got strong visuals, great 3D, smart creativity and that trademark Tsui Hark energy. Despite the lack of gravitas, the story has some effective twists, and the characters are very enjoyable. Jet Li is a bit of a rock, but Zhou Xun is fine as his counterpart, as is Mavis Fan in a surprising turn. Guey Lun-Mei and Aloys Chen are the most fun, however; Guey shows an endearing toughness, while Chen gets to be cute, beautiful and gorgeously cunning in his dual role. He’s fabulously evil as bad eunuch Yu Huatian and exceptionally likable as the heroic and somewhat dopey Wind Blade. Some characters have romantic connections, but they’re mostly used for minor humor. The main romance between Jet Li and Zhou Xun is unremarkable; unsolicited relationship platitudes plus the actors’ lack of chemistry makes it largely forgettable.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate ends on an abrupt, seemingly throwaway gag – a mystifying choice but not one that’s out of character. This is a fun movie and not a serious one, with enjoyment strewn around, in minor moments or even in small snippets of dialogue between characters. It’s through the little details that we catch the callbacks to the 1992 Dragon Inn - evidence that maybe this movie is a sequel – and minor moments reveal the female characters as strong, forthright and admirable. Strong women are one of Tsui Hark’s old trademarks – and maybe that’s what this is all about: the old. Flying Swords shows love of an old genre, but it’s not about that genre. This is not a postmodern film, and apes old tropes and old styles without trying to sell to us on how great all that old stuff was. This is just an old movie transplanted to today’s digital age, with the familiar score, Byzantine plot and finely-executed action sequences brought forward in three dimensions. Movies like this aren’t cheap to make anymore, so we won’t see a flood of them like back in the early 1990s. But if Tsui Hark is in the director’s chair, the money will be well spent. (Kozo 2011)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
2-DVD Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on 2D and 3D Blu-ray Disc
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