Dragon Tiger Gate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 July, 2006, 12:00am

Starring: Donnie Yen Ji-dan, Nicholas Tse Ting-fung, Shawn Yue Man-lok, Dong Jie

Director: Wilson Yip Wai-shun

Category: IIB (Cantonese)

In this adaptation of the Hong Kong comic book Dragon and Tiger Heroes, three kung-fu aces bravely battle an array of bad guys, but finally fall victim to the ultimate villain: a bad script.

It's yet another big-budget production whose technical derring-do fails to compensate for a plodding plot, a recipe that's bound to disappoint fans of Tony Wong Yuk-long's original tales and leave non-aficionados less than engrossed by the tedious, albeit richly illustrated, goings-on.

This marks the second collaboration between director Wilson Yip and martial arts actor and choreographer Donnie Yen. Their SPL, released last November, also suffered from a lightweight script, but made up for it with some of the most exciting, non-computer generated action for years. Not this time around - CGI so dominates that it's difficult to appreciate the considerable physical efforts of Yen and company. Not that the graphic imagery isn't impressive, but this is diluted by the movie's release on the heels of this summer's other major local blockbuster, the even more spectacular special effects-laden Re-Cycle.

The filmmakers had a challenging task distilling the spirit of a comic book series, encompassing 1,500 weekly adventures published over 30 years, into 94 minutes of celluloid. But even sympathetic viewers can't help but be underwhelmed by the uninspired script in which Tiger Wong (Nicholas Tse) and elder half-brother Dragon Wong (Yen) temporarily find themselves on opposite sides of a ho-hum battle pitting good against evil. The former is represented by the Dragon Tiger Gate martial arts school, which Tiger calls home; the latter is the Lousha Gate criminal gang and its associates, including a semi-righteous gangster (kung-fu veteran Chan Kuan-tai) for whom Dragon reluctantly serves as a bodyguard. Joining the fray is the nunchaku-wielding blond-haired Turbo Shek (Shawn Yue Man-lok), who teams up with Tiger and the reformed Dragon to battle a masked villain for control of a magical plaque with generic super powers.

The narrative is so uninvolving that one simply doesn't care who emerges victorious. Matters aren't helped by insipid romantic subplots putting Tiger and Dragon opposite, respectively, the virginal Ma Xiaoling (Dong Jie) and the mysterious Lousha (Li Xiaoran) - the emotional underpinnings overstated by Kenji Kawai's thundering score.

Occasionally, there are inklings of the glorious romp that might have been. As the head of the martial arts school and uncle to Tiger and Dragon, Yuen Wah embodies just the right note of benevolent authority when he grabs a pair of flip-flops and uses them nunchaku-like to demolish Turbo's insufferable arrogance. In the movie's most inspired bit of casting, Tony Wong plays a reclusive monk who wields his ink brush as he dispenses advice -

to characters literally created by himself. The implications are mind-boggling, but barely hinted

at in Dragon Tiger Gate.

Dragon Tiger Gate opens today