Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
Starring: Jet Li Lianjie, Zhou Xun, Chen Kun, Mavis Fan Hsiao-shuan
Director: Tsui Hark
Category: IIB (Cantonese and Putonghua versions)
A spectacular wuxia epic that mixes wire work with cutting-edge 3-D technology, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is mesmerising visually but deeply flawed.
The film, produced, written and directed by Tsui Hark, takes flight from the word go: Jet Li, as the crusading Zhou Huaian, who upholds justice with his sword, dives like an eagle for salmon to an execution ground to rescue a couple of noblemen from the hands of an evil eunuch (Gordon Lau Kar-fai).
The swordfight between the martial arts veterans is exhilarating and tense, with 3-D technology bringing depth to the elaborate action choreography. The eunuchs strike back, and their commander, Yu Huatian (Chen Kun, above right with Li) decides to hole up in Dragon Inn, a tavern in the remote desert in China, to await Zhou.
Joining the fray are a female swordfighter, Ling Yanqiu (Zhou Xun), who wants to rekindle an old flame with Zhou, a pregnant palace maid (Mavis Fan) who escaped from the eunuchs, a tribal princess (Kwai Lun-mei) hunting for treasures buried in the desert, as well as a travelling fighter (Li Yuchun) and her ex-lover sidekick, who looks exactly like Commander Yu (and is also played by Chen Kun). The plot spins out of control at midpoint, when different parties with varying motives try to outwit each other in the desert. Yet the interesting cocktail of characters makes up for the confusion. Tsui is renowned for creating interesting female roles, and in Flying Swords he comes up with more memorable female warriors. Kwai is stunning in her exotic tribal outfit, while Zhou, whose forlorn look speaks of eternal solitude, is a revelation.
Yet in the end, there are simply too many plotlines competing for attention, and the abundance of material is at times baffling rather than exciting. For moviegoers who expect coherent and consistent storytelling, Flying Swords is a let-down. Tsui's narrative leaves too many gaps for the imagination to fill, and the film moves at such a frantic pace that there is scarcely time for the emotions to sink in.
Tsui's career is perhaps the most interesting in Chinese cinema today. There are directors, for instance Zhang Yimou and Jiang Wen, who are more refined in their art, but none of them seem to share the Hong Kong filmmaker's passion for filmmaking and range of creativity. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate marks the return of a maverick who tends to self-ignite as much as self-implode.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate opens today