Sunday, November 24, 2013

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate review

    Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is a half-remake/half-sequel to New Dragon Inn, which was much the same to another similarly titled movie. The premise of all three movies boils down to the same basic principle: heroic rebels against evil martial-arts wielding eunuchs end up at the Dragon Inn which is run by unscrupulous rogues. The three groups bounce off against each other before things revolve themselves in an entertaining fashion.

    Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is a big-budget CGI version of these films, involving much higher stakes and grander sets than the first two. In this version, a pregnant maid in the Imperial Palace is being hunted by the secret service of the palace due to the small chance she might be carrying the Emperor's child.
I really liked the villain in this one. Just the right mixture of badass and smug jackass.
    Their leader, Yu, is opposed by rebel general Zhao (Jet Li) who is trying to keep her alive with a woman impersonating him. One who may be the saucy innkeeper from New Dragon Inn. Along the way, they encounter some Tartars and a couple of con men who are hoping to make a fortune with a (literal) buried treasure. If I were to describe it, it'd be a combination of Sahara, Star Wars, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

    Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is a fun rip-roaring adventure that has a surprising number of twists and an excellent balance of action sequences with the comedy. Some of the CGI effects are a bit obvious, especially the scenes which were supposed to be filmed in 3D. Still, overall, they're very impressive and mixed with positively gorgeous sets.

    Having seen New Dragon Inn, I must say that everyone does an excellent job but it doesn't have quite the same punch. I may be biased in this assessment, however, due to my inexhaustible love of Maggie Cheung. It's a pity Donnie Yen couldn't have been a part of this as well, given his villainous turn in New Dragon Inn was quite impressive.

Lots of amazing stunts.
    In fact, thinking about it, I don't mind the recasting but it seems strange that Jet Li (born 1963) is cast as the hero of New Dragon Inn but they recast the role of the innkeeper despite the fact Maggie Cheung is an appropriate age (born 1964) for her romance arc. It took me awhile to realize they were supposed to be the same character. I also missed the original performance's sauciness.

    The first half of the movie is the most enjoyable and could have really sustained the entire film without the addition of the needless treasure hunt plot. There's also a rather forgettable "identical strangers" subplot which had some funny moments but ultimately lead nowhere. I won't get into a late-movie twist which, while shocking, really makes no sense. Otherwise, the film is grandiose and enjoyable. My favorite of the fights are the film's openings sword fight involving flying logs and a multi-person wuxia duel on a Chinese junk.

Fun characters.
     Sometimes, the spectacle gets in the way of the movie's better parts. As mentioned, the addition of a city hidden underneath a sandstorm containing a lost treasure isn't so much an homage to Sahara as flat-out copying. Likewise, there's one too many cool and interesting characters for a movie which only has so much run-time to get to know them all. A smoother script and trimmed cast would have done this movie wonders, in my humble opinion.

    Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is a great buy for any fan of wuxia films or martial arts epics in general. It's not the best example of its genre but it's a piece both Westerners and Easterners can enjoy. It's not a perfect movie but well worth the price of a DVD. Really, my only complaint about the film is the DVD doesn't allow me to skip past its mammoth number of previews every time I want to watch the film.


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