Review: FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE 龍門飛甲 (2011) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 9 January 2012

Review: FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE 龍門飛甲 (2011)


RATING: 2.5/5

After the success of DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (2010), it's a huge relief that director Tsui Hark has finally found his groove back. When he announced his next movie would be the remake/re-telling/sequel-of-sorts (depends on how you look at it) to DRAGON INN (1992), the long-awaited arrival of FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE is certainly the kind of movie hard to ignore. After all, it's also the movie that marked the much-anticipated return of Tsui Hark and Jet Li, both collaborated for the first time since ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA AND AMERICA (1997). Not only that, the movie also make history by being the first IMAX 3D wuxia movie ever made. However, despite all the hype, FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE is a fairly entertaining if heavily uneven movie that hardly qualifies among the best works from either Tsui Hark or Jet Li. Even its heavily-promoted 3D effects is at best, a mixed bag.


The movie opens with Zhao Huai'an (Jet Li), a crusading warrior who is out to take out the corrupt eunuchs from the West and East Bureaus during the Ming Dynasty era. At the beginning, he manages to bring down West Bureau's Wan Yulou (Gordon Liu) and his immediate next target is East Bureau's Yu Huatian (Aloys Chen), a powerful eunuch who is also on the hunt to locate Zhao as well. At the same time, Yu Huatian also sends out his officials to hunt down the pregnant, palace maid Su Huirong (Mavis Fan), who has upset Royal Concubine Wan (Zhang Xinyu).

Things get complicated with the arrival of another Zhao Huai'an, a mysterious masked female assassin (Zhou Xun), who is actually has a hidden agenda of her own. After she manages to rescue Su Huirong from the clutches of Yu Huatian's officials, they subsequently ends up to Dragon Gate Inn, the once-infamous inn located at the middle of the desert, which is now rebuilt after being burnt down by its previous owner. The owner, of course, had since disappeared. Upon their arrival at the inn, they discover the place is crowded with a pair of bandits lead by Gu Shaotang (Li Yuchun) and Yu Huatian-lookalike Wind Blade (also Aloys Chen), Princess Buludu (Gwai Lun Mei) and her Mongolian warriors, and Yu Huaitian's second-in-command Tan Lu Zi (Sheng Chien), who is on the lookout for Su Huirong. Then Zhao Huai'an finally appears again, and monitors every situation on hidden sight, before he decides to take them down all at once.

If you are expecting the same kinetic flair Tsui Hark and Jet Li used to collaborate so well together during their prime, especially in the hugely-popular ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series, I urge you to keep your expectation low. Despite being spearheaded by veteran martial-art choreographer Yuen Bun, the action is surprisingly lackluster if to compare the yesteryears, especially when the movie is heavily aided by CGI and of course, the 3D effects (personally I feel traditional wirework stunt is a lot better). Still there are some well-choreographed, sword-fighting set pieces nonetheless. Even the 3D effects isn't exactly as spectacular as the aggressive marketing campaign might suggests at the first place, Tsui Hark still able to make adequate use of the technology to play around with the depth of field, and at the same time, toying with lots of moving objects being tosses literally at the viewers in creative and entertaining fashion (swords, daggers, axes, bows and arrows, etc.) One highly-publicized 3D effect which involves the sandstorm scene during the climactic fight scene between Jet Li and Aloys Chen, is fairly impressive by Chinese movie blockbuster standard. Wu Wai Lap's music score, in the meantime, which incorporates Chinese opera-like style is simultaneously epic and exciting.

Too bad the same cannot be said with Tsui Hark, Hoh Kei-Ping and Chu Nga-Lai's strangely overstuffed plot. There are just too many things going on all at once, until you can almost ensure it could have spin off their own installment instead. The middle section, in particular, is a tedious slog while the ending is needlessly overlong (you'll know once you see it). The characters, in the meantime, are also mixed bag especially for Jet Li, who is surprisingly a big letdown due to his terribly underwritten role. Still most of the supporting roles fare a tad better: Zhou Xun is energetic as the warrior-in-disguise while Li Yuchun, Gwai Lun Mei and especially Aloys Chen, commit their roles playful enough to make them interesting to watch for. However, Mavis Fan's turn as Su Huirong is disappointingly wooden. The supposedly romance subplot between Jet Li and Zhou Xun is entirely forgettable.

While FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE is hardly Tsui Hark's masterpiece by any means, at least his follow-up from DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME, does have its worthy entertainment values.

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