Fans of Asian cinema will find plenty to enjoy in Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, Tsui Hark’s follow up to Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. However, it’s not as magical nor memorable as some of the more recent releases that are cut from the same type of cloth. And while that might be the case, it doesn’t mean that Flying Swords of Dragon Gate isn’t worth your time, because it is. The film has some incredible fight scenes, quirky humour and an overall entertaining story, and sometimes that’s all you need.
The film is a re-imagining of sorts to the critically acclaimed 1992 film Dragon Inn, with events picking up three years after where that film left off. That one seems to be a remake of the 1967 film of the same name, so in essence this is a spawn of both of those movies on some level. From what I can tell, no characters return from either of those versions, as it seems this one more or less just takes place in the same universe as its predecessors. Again, I may be wrong, but in the end it doesn’t really matter, as Flying Swords of Dragon Gate stands on its own quite well, giving the viewer all the backstory they’ll need on the world they’re about to enter within the first few minutes.
Jet Li plays vigilante general Zhao Huai’an, who looks to restore order to the royal throne with the help of his two highly skilled comrades. Corruption runs deep in this film, with two separate bureaus (the East and West) spying on and policing the entire nation. In the opening sequence Huai’an battles and defeats the leader of the East Bureau, decapitating him as a warning to all those who follow his corrupt ways. Meanwhile, the Emperor’s chief concubine sends the leader of the West Bureau out in a mission to capture and kill one of the Emperor’s courtesans who has escaped from the kingdom with the Emperor’s baby in her womb.
The officials catch up with the woman, and just as they’re about to assassinate her, a mysterious hero appears and defeats them all, rescuing the woman and her unborn child. The two quickly head to the new Dragon Inn, where they hope to seek refuge before moving forward. The leader of the West Bureau learns about their potential whereabouts, and they head out to finish the job once and for all. Meanwhile, Zhao Huai’an learns that the West Bureau is heading to the Dragon Inn, and heads there to continue his quest to free the royal throne.
What nobody knows is that already at the inn there are treasure hunters and thieves who are searching for a lost treasure thought to be out in that area. And while all groups unknowingly begin their journey’s that will lead to an inevitably violent confrontation, a massive sandstorm of epic proportions begins to stir on the horizon that will set the stage for things to come.
Writer/director Tsui Hark does some absolutely beautiful work here with his filmmaking crew, as Flying Swords at Dragons Gate is a really spectacular looking film. Now I wasn’t able to view it in 3D; however, the film holds strong in 2D, and if things look half as good in 3D as the viewer is made to believe while watching it in 2D, then the extra dimension will be a treat.
Flying Swords at Dragon Gate is without a doubt an epic piece of Asian cinema. The story is complex, yet not overly confusing (okay, sometimes it can get a bit mind boggling when juggling around all the personalities and motives), and the characters are fun and easy to route for – even if they aren’t exactly as multidimensional as the film itself. While not overly memorable, if you’re a fan of this sort of thing, then odds are you’ll find plenty to enjoy during your stay at the Dragon Inn.
The video transfer looks beautiful in 2D, and I would have to believe the same can be said about the 3D transfer as well. Even if that’s not the case, the 2D version is work checking out as the transfer is sharp and beautiful, and while the 3D would be a bonus, it’s not entirely necessary to enjoy the movie. The sound transfer is also incredibly well done, with the mixes and musical score all coming through beautifully.
The Making of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate – This featurette is broken into two pieces, both adding up to roughly 14 minutes in length altogether. There are some decent interview subjects here, but overall the quality of the video and substance is lacking. If you want to know everything about the film and get every penny out of your Blu-ray purchase, check it out.
Interviews with Cast and Filmmakers – This one runs at just over 20 minutes in length, and is exactly what it says. Here you’ll find some extra info about the filmmaking process, but it’s mostly the usual topics being touched upon by principal cast and crew.
Behind the Scenes – This would be the “bread and butter” feature, if any of them could be considered such. It runs at just over 32 minutes in length, and showcases various scenes being shot, the wire work that goes into them, the staging, and things along those lines. It’s fun to watch, as anyone who watches these types of films know how over-the-top they can be during the battles. This one is worth checking out.
Flying Swords at Dragon Gate is a visual masterpiece, and an entertaining film overall. The characters are fairly cookie-cutter, and the story does turn into a bit of a tongue-twister in terms of who wants what, when and why as time goes on, but the visuals, and the underlying enjoyable plot make this worth checking out.
Bona Film Group Co. LTD China Film Co. LTD SMG Pictures Shine Show Interactive Media Co. LTD and Bona Entertainment Co. LTD Present Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. Written and Directed by: Hark Tsui. Starring: Jet Li, Zhou Xun, Chen Kun, Li Yuchun, Kwai Lun-mei, Louis Fan, Mavis Fan. Running time: 122 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: January 15, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Jet Li