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Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D(2011)
The bad guys are the eunuchs of the Imperial Court, who have created their own unaccountable secret police, armed with bizarre weapons and utterly ruthless in their quest for power and wealth. The good guys are led by a former general, stripped of his rank by the eunuchs, who set out to shield the innocent, right some wrongs and restore decency to the Imperial Court. And the ugly guys are a gang of cut-throat bandits who have caught scent of a hoard of hidden treasure. Their conflicts come to a head at Dragon Inn, a remote outpost in the desert at the very frontier of the kingdom.
For more about Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D and the Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D Blu-ray release, see Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 2, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jet Li, Zhou Xun, Lunmei Kwai (Gwei Lun-Mei)
Director: Tsui Hark
» See full cast & crew
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D Blu-ray Review
Third time's the charm.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 2, 2012
Chances are your parents probably harangued you at least once when you were growing up with that old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," but did they have any snappy aphorisms for when you did succeed? In 1967 a Taiwanese film called Dragon Inn (sometimes titled Dragon Gate Inn) was released and while this was somewhat before Asian martial arts spectaculars had really started to matriculate widely to the West, the film was well received in its native land and did considerable business at the time. In 1992 a remake came along which is popularly known as New Dragon Gate Inn, though which is formally just called Dragon Inn in North America. (Confused yet?) This film, which pre-dated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by some eight years, was produced by Tsui Hark and was a huge fan favorite when it played the festival circuit in the United States, including at Sundance. Now some twenty or so years after that remake, Hark has returned to the source material to fashion Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, this time as co-producer, writer and director. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate keeps the same basic plot mechanics in place (which will be detailed later in the review) while taking full advantage of 3D technology to deliver one of the most in your face (literally) entertainments, wuxia or not, in recent memory. Hark has often been lauded for his typically effortless handling of epic structures, at least in terms of the nuts and bolts of filmcraft, even when at the same time he's been raked over the critical coals for some flaws in his pacing and especially his basic storytelling skills. Perhaps because Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is the third trip to this particular well, more or less anyway, there are few issues in terms of the plot and Hark can therefore concentrate on offering the viewer an incredible panoply of set pieces which take full advantage of a 3D environment. Bolstered by a fun (if awfully stern) lead performance by Jet Li and filled to the brim with over the top wire work and finely wrought fight choreography, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate proves that remakes can be at least as good as the originals, if not better, when they're handled with care and precision by a team that doesn't want to throw the veritable baby out with the bath water as they also attempt to invest the material with their own special vision.
Truth be told, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is not always completely easy to understand, especially once a gaggle of characters meet—including some doubles—at the now iconic Dragon Gate Inn, a dilapidated shack of a hostel literally in the middle of nowhere, a nowhere that's about to be visited by a violent sandstorm. The film slightly misrepresents what it's about with an opening set piece which pits some evil eunuchs (is there any other kind?) against a small band of renegades led by a legendary fighter named Zhou (Jet Li). This opening scene is a riot of fight choreography invention and 3D magic, with huge logs spilling out of statues directly toward the viewer, Jet Li himself catapulting himself straight toward the viewer, and some truly amazing wire work. But soon a whole slew of supporting characters are introduced, including a female warrior named Ling (Zhou Xun), a warrior who in fact is mistaken for Zhou quite a bit of the time. Ling ends up rescuing a young woman named Su (Mavis Fan) who is carrying the Emperor's illegitimate child. Su has a target on her back (and/or belly) and is being chased by a gang of putative assassins led by Yu (Chen Kun), a kind of smarmy mob boss of sorts.
Ling and Su end up at the Dragon Gate Inn where it soon becomes apparent that Ling may have some history with the place. In the meantime, there is growing tension between two sets of visitors at the inn, tensions that are only increased when a pair of new folks shows up, including an apparently timid young man named Wind Blade who just happens to look exactly like Yu (he's also played by Chen). This motley group of travelers then are thrust together as the sandstorm descends on the area, revealing some unexpected surprises.
In a way, though, the plot takes a back seat here to the visual wizardry. It really doesn't matter if you completely understand why this faction or that is fighting each other or if indeed at any given moment the character played by Chen is Yu or Wind Blade (believe me, it gets confusing at times). And in fact while the plot does make sense (mostly, anyway), it suffers from the typical Hark preponderance toward laborious exposition. What keeps this film so engaging is the absolutely riveting set pieces, which crop up regularly every few minutes and offer some stupendously exciting and well staged sequences. Even those who have grown bored with the tried and true uses of wire work and fighters busting through a series of props may well be amazed at the variety of the fights that Hark has on tap here.
Those who see Jet Li's name so prominently displayed on the cover of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate may be a bit disappointed that the iconic actor has so little screen time. This is in every sense an ensemble piece, a huge, sprawling canvas that Hark exploits for all its worth. The film may fail rather spectacularly in trying to eke out even a smidgeon of real human emotion, but that's not a disastrous situation in an over the top entertainment like this. In fact, the lack of anything approaching real human emotion only makes the hugely cartoonish ambience of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate all the more enjoyable.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D Blu-ray, Video Quality
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is presented on Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D courtesy of Indomina Releasing and Vivendi Visual with AVC (2D) and MVD (3D) encoded transfers (on separate discs) in 2.39:1. Hark and cinematographer Choi Sung-fai start things off with a brightly colored seascape where the first big fight scene takes place, but then the bulk of the rest of the film is consigned to barren desert locales that tend to favor a brown and beige palette. Clarity is exceptional in virtually all of the scenes, even those with CGI sand whipping through the frame. Contrast Is extremely strong and consistent and colors, while muted, are appropriately saturated and look very accurate. (The film really bears little sign of aggressive color grading in post).
The 3D presentation here is nothing short of amazing, certainly one of the strongest 3D outings I've seen recently. Hark consistently places objects in the forefront of virtually every shot which immediately creates depth. Sometimes this will be an actor, at other times a prop like a piece of a fence or even a cup or bowl, but the depth of this 3D presentation is really immersive almost all of the time. In fact for those of you who like me get a little queasy with too many objects in the foreground passing by quickly in tracking shots may want to be forewarned that Hark tends to prefer exactly that kind of establishing shot a lot of the time. There are the typical "tricks" scattered throughout the film which involve everything from the aforementioned logs spilling out toward the viewer, to a flock of birds overtaking a cave on the outskirts of the Dragon Gate Inn, to some fantastic fight sequences that see the combatants repeatedly coming straight at the camera, often with a prop either in front of them or following close behind. Because of the film's generally muted palette, there's very little diminution in vibrancy noticeable in the 3D presentation.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate has a fantastically immersive lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in the original Mandarin. While it's obvious many of the actors have been post-looped (and none too effectively at times, at least in terms of matching lip movements), once you can get past that very typical anomaly, the rest of the film is just a riot of brilliant sound design and fantastic surround activity. While one expects the fight sequences to be awash in the quicksilver sound of blades striking each other and the pummeling of fists and feet (which of course is completely what happens throughout the film), some of the best effects are little ambient environmental touches. My favorite, while not especially germane to anything major in the film, was when a huge assortment of cicadas started buzzing and the sound simply wafted overhead from front to rear. There's virtually no scene here that doesn't offer some sort of great surround activity. Dialogue is cleanly presented (even if it's rather poorly synched to the actors at times), and the beautiful score featuring a lot of ethnic instruments also sounds fantastic. Fidelity is spot on and dynamic range is extremely wide.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All of the supplements are included on the disc which features the 2D version of the film:
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate still finds Tsui Hark struggling to adequately deal with exposition, but otherwise this is just one nonstop roller coaster ride of a film. The fight sequences are nothing short of spectacular and the 3D presentation is among the best I've personally experienced. Jet Li's screen time is relatively limited, so those thinking this is a Li vehicle may be a bit disappointed in that aspect of the film, but there is enough knock down, drag out action going on involving virtually all of the characters that Li's absence from time to time shouldn't be a great concern. Even if you're not a particular fan of wuxia films, my hunch is you'll get a real kick (pun intended) out of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. Highly recommended.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D: Other Editions
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Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveway: Flying Swords of Dragon Gate - October 4, 2012
Blu-ray.com and Indomina Releasing are offering three members a chance to win a copy of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. This 3D martial arts spectacular stars Jet Li and is directed by Tsui Hark. A 2D version of the film is also included in the release, which ...
• Tsui Hark's Flying Swords of Dragon Gate Heading to Blu-ray - July 25, 2012
Indomina Releasing/Vivendi Visual have revealed that they are planning to release a double disc edition (2D/3D Blu-ray) of acclaimed Hong Kong director Tsui Hark's Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011), starring action superstar Jet Li, Xun Zhou and Kun Chen. Street ...
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