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: 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.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate


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

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content