×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

The 3D is terrific in "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate," but helmer Tsui Hark's costume actioner -- the first Chinese-lingo movie shown in the stereoscopic Imax format -- is let down by two-dimensional characters.

With:
With: Jet Li, Zhou Xun, Chen Kun, Gwei Lun-mei, Li Yuchun, Mavis Fan, Fan Su-wong, Gordon Liu, Sheng Chien. (Mandarin dialogue)

The 3D is terrific in “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate,” but helmer Tsui Hark’s costume actioner — the first Chinese-lingo movie shown in the stereoscopic Imax format — is let down by two-dimensional characters. Toplining an underused Jet Li, this reworking of King Hu’s “Dragon Gate Inn” (1966) and the Tsui-produced “New Dragon Gate Inn” (1992) scored an impressive $22 million opening weekend gross following December 15 domestic release. Modest figures in simultaneous Australian rollout suggests biz beyond Asia will be just OK. North American distribution details are yet to be announced.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

“Swords” has notched mighty numbers on 59 giantscreens locally; at regular venues, the pic was narrowly beaten for the top B.O. spot by Zhang Yimou’s “The Flowers of War,” launched the same day.

Action centers initially on Zhou Huai’an (Li), a freedom fighter opposing corrupt eunuchs holding power during China’s Ming dynasty. Following a knockout opening sequence in which he and his small band of followers rescue alleged traitors facing certain death at a shipyard, Zhou disappears for long stretches while Tsui introduces a lengthy roster of characters whose paths eventually cross.

Chief among these is Ling Yanqiu (Zhou Xun), a female warrior who has rescued Su Huirong (Mavis Fan), a palace maid marked for death after being impregnated by the emperor. Charged with eliminating Su is Yu Huatian (Chen Kun), a regional boss who tracks the women to Dragon Gate Inn, a rough-and-tumble hostel in the middle of the desert where human flesh is on the menu.

Built over a city of treasures accessible only during a sandstorm that’s about to make its once-every-60-years appearance, the establishment has attracted adventurers including the roughneck crew of Mongol princess Buludu (Gwei Lun-mei), female bandit Gu Shaotang (Li Yuchun), and her partner-in-crime, Wind Blade (also Chen), a dead ringer for Yu. What follows is a sometimes confusing series of deceptions, double-crosses and barroom brawls as Wind Blade and Yu impersonate each other and Zhou re-enters the picture ahead of the climactic CGI sandstorm.

With the assistance of “Avatar’s” 3D visual effects supervisor, Chuck Comisky (credited as supervising stereographer), Tsui stages any number of marvelous action sequences. But what’s glaringly absent is any character depth or significant emotional content for auds to embrace. Some sort of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”-style connection is hinted at between warriors Zhou and Ling, but their reunion fails to produce sparks of any kind.

Given little screentime and handed light duties, action-wise, top-billed Li is overshadowed by Zhou Xun’s steely femme fighter and Taiwanese thesp Gwei, who steals the show as the tattoo-faced, tough-talking tribal leader.

With hardly a primary color in his palette, lenser Choi Sung-fai creates splendidly burnished imagery of deserts and atmospheric interiors of the heavily wooded inn. A rousing, old-fashioned orchestral score by Wu Wai-lap, Li Han-chiang and Gu Xin rounds out a topnotch tech package.

Popular on Variety

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

China

Production: A Distribution Workshop release of a Bona Film Group, China Film Co., SMG Pictures, Shine Show Interactive Media Co., Bona Entertainment Co. presentation of a Film Workshop production. (International sales: Distribution Workshop, Hong Kong.) Produced by Nansun Shi, Yu Dong, Tsui Hark. Executive producers, Yu Dong, Han Sanping, Li Ruigang, Chen Danian, Jeffrey Chan. Co-producers, Han Xiaoli, Shi Dong-min, Yang Wenhong, James Zhao, Zhu Guofan. Directed, written by Tsui Hark.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, Imax 3D), Choi Sung-fai; editor, Yau Chi-wan; music, Wu Wai-lap, Li Han-chiang, Gu Xin; music supervisor, Wu; production designer, Yee Chung-man; art director, Ben Lau; costume designer, Lai Hsuan-wu; sound (Dolby Digital), Kim Chang-sub; visual effects supervisor, Kim Wook; visual effects, Digital Idea, Eclipse Studio, Digital Art Design, Crystal CG; action choreographers, Yuen Bun, Lan Ha Han, Sun Jiankui; associate producers, Ding Yilaw, Peng Mingyu, Liu Yong, Zhang Hao, Zhao Haicheng, Su Xiao; supervising stereographer, Chuck Comisky; second unit camera, Saba Mazloum. Reviewed at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney, Dec. 20, 2011. Running time: 122 MIN.

With: With: Jet Li, Zhou Xun, Chen Kun, Gwei Lun-mei, Li Yuchun, Mavis Fan, Fan Su-wong, Gordon Liu, Sheng Chien. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content