Movie Review: The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
Rating: R for some violence
Length: 122 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 31, 2012
Directed by: Hark Tsui
Stars: 3 out of 5
"The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" is a wuxia film made in 2011 that stars action film star Jet Li and is directed by the veteran director Tsui Hark. It was filmed on location in
China and Hong Kong, and all the original dialogue is in Mandarin. This film was initially screened at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated for seven awards at the 2012 Asian Film Awards.
Wuxia is a subgenre of the action/adventure genre in Chinese films, and the literal translation of "wuxia" is "martial hero." The protagonists in wuxia films are typically skilled various forms of martial combat but do not hold military or political power. Wuxia protagonists usually follow a chivalrous code that requires them to help poor and oppressed people.
"The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" is a sequel to the 1992 wuxia film "New Dragon Gate Inn," which was itself a remake of the 1966 film "Dragon Gate Inn." It is set three years after the events in "New Dragon Gate Inn." A new inn has been built on the same site as the original inn that was destroyed in "New Dragon Gate Inn." The innkeeper Jade has disappeared, and the inn is staffed by thieves disguised as law-abiding citizens. They are trying to locate a lost city rumored to be buried in the desert so they can plunder its riches.
This film is set in the Ming dynasty and initially centers on Zhou Huai'an (Jet Li), a warrior who is fighting a gang of corrupt eunuchs. Zhou and a small group of followers rescue a man accused of being a traitor who is about to be executed. After this opening sequence, Zhou is absent for extended periods during the first part of the film while a long cast of characters is introduced. The characters generally have their own storylines, which converge later in the film.
The primary supporting character is Ling Yanqiu (Zhou Xun), who rescues Su Huirong (Mavis Fan). Su is a palace maid who has been impregnated by an evil emperor. The emperor dispatches regional boss Yu Huatian (Chen Kun) to kill Su. Yu tracks Ling and Su to the Dragon Gate Inn, which now serves human flesh.
The treasures in the buried city under the Dragon Gate Inn are only accessible during a sandstorm, which occurs every 60 years. The next sandstorm is imminent, which attracts various other adventurers, such as Buludu (Gwei Lun-mei), Gu Shaotang (Li Yuchun) and Wind Blade (also played by Chen Kun). Yu and Wind Blade use their physical similarity to conduct a series of double-crosses in their pursuit of treasure, revenge and justice. Zhou reappears at this point and is present during the film's climax.
Tsui primarily concentrates on staging the action sequences rather than developing the characters or providing emotional content. The relationship between Zhou and Ling hints at a romance, although this is not actually shown in the film. Despite being billed as the top star, Li has less screen time and fewer action scenes than Xun, whose character is a steely female fighter. One surprising standout in the film is Gwei Lun-mei, who steals his scenes as a tough tribal leader Buludu. Lead cinematographer Choi Shung-Fai uses complex colors to create realistic scenes of the desert and the interior of the inn. Composer William Hu Wei-Li provides a traditional orchestral score that complements the film's theme and rounds out its technical elements.
"The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" was originally conceived as a remake of "New Dragon Gate Inn," but Tsui revised the script to be closer to a sequel with an original story. The film is entirely in 3D, which is a first for wuxia films. This technology injects new life into this traditional genre, particularly in the film's many fight scenes.
Li returned to the wuxia genre with this film after acting in various other genres of Chinese and American films. He has said that he was attracted to this film because Tsui provided him with a vibrant stage that added another layer of experience to his acting. Li also feels that his role in "The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" allows him to feel as if he never left the wuxia genre. Zhou Xun said that she was moved to tears when she read the script. She also said the role of Ling Yanqiu has changed her heart and represents a complete overhaul of her approach to acting.