May 11, 2012

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

Tsui Hark’s latest wuxia flick, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, is now available wherever you buy your Hong Kong video imports. (Remember, co-continentals: Asia and America share the same Blue Ray region.)

This sequel to the 1992 classic Dragon Inn serves up a study in contrasting eras of flying-people. The original is fast, energetic and sometimes technically crude. Flying Swords drips with mammoth production values, is Hark’s first foray into 3D, and relies as heavily on CGI-animated fu fighting as on wirework.

In plot embracing full convolution of its literary sources, Jet Li plays a eunuch-busting guerrilla who, after destroying the evil East Bureau, is hunted by the bad-ass prince of the even more evil West Bureau. Their paths take them to Dragon Inn, where the white meat in the noodles is people. Add a woman warrior disguised as him as an expression of unrequited love, a pregnant girl escaping the prince, and an assorted complement of treasure-hunting bandits, and you’ve got more story than you can shake a throwing dart at. And oh yes, there’s a gigantic sandstorm headed their way.

I wish this was as complete a return to form as Hark’s previous Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. But here early reels that ought to be investing you in the characters instead spent time throwing computer-animated objects at the 3D camera. Would I sooner see Jet Li in his athletic prime, fighting a dude in widescreen with a locked-off camera? Yes, but that was nearly twenty years ago now. If you’re a fan, lesser Hark and Li are still Hark and Li.

The trailer prominently features the opening cameo from a corrupt eunuch Gordon Liu.