Tsui Hark's 'Dragon Gate' a visual feast

By Keen Zhang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, December 21, 2011
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A truly original 3D IMAX Kung Fu movie from Hong Kong film wizard Tsui Hark is set to blow "Kung Fu Panda" out of the water.

"Flying Swords of the Dragon Gate", a bold and groundbreaking sequel to 1992 Hong Kong wuxia classic "New Dragon Gate Inn", hit screens on the same day Zhang Yimou's "The Flowers of War" tried to dominate theaters.

For this sequel, Tsui Hark chose to re-imagine the plot instead of simply remaking the old classic. Tsui himself worked on the script as well as directed and produced the film to ensure originality. Polybona Films invested US$35 million into the project.

Tsui Hark has always been a guru of wuxia, a broad genre of Chinese fiction about the adventures of martial art heroes. Time Magazine just rated his "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" as one of Top 10 films of 2011, calling it "a masterpiece".

This time, Tsui Hark enlists Kung Fu superstar Jet Li, who he hasn't collaborated with for 20 years, to be the leading man. The villain is played by Chen Kun, an acclaimed mainland actor. The all-star cast also includes Zhou Xun, Li Yuchun, Kwai Lun-mei, Louis Fan and Mavis Fan.

The story takes place during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), as wuxia hero Zhao Huai'an (Jet Li) continues his pursuit for justice against corrupt government officials. Ling Yanqiu (Zhou Xun), the former female boss of the Dragon Gate Inn and admirer of Zhao, joins Zhao in his quest.

Evil kung fu master and head of Emperor's secret service department Yu Huatian (Chen Kun) and his team hunt for an escaped maid (Mavis Fan) who might carry a baby of the emperor. Meanwhile, other gangsters and a barbarian princess (Kwai Lun-mei) hunt for treasures of a lost kingdom buried in the sand. They all meet at the infamous Dragon Gate Inn, where alliances form and confrontations have the potential to escalate into conflict.

Only Chen Kun, who played the roles of the eunuch and his double in the film, delivers a convincing performance, with others barely delivering or falling flat. Super Girls contest winner Li Yuchun gives a ridiculous, amateurish performance which will only please her die-hard fans.

The Hollywood-esque lost kingdom plot and treasure hunt are oddly integrated into the whole wuxia-theme storyline. While undoubtedly expanding the limits of the wuxia film genre, some of the outlandish scenes might be hard for old-school Kung Fu movie fans to swallow.

Despite hang-ups with the plot, the film's 3-D IMAX visual effects, which were co-produced by nine top international visual effects companies, truly shine. Chuck Comisky, the visual-effects supervisor for James Cameron's "Avatar", teams up with Tsui Hark as the film's 3-D special effects director.

The quality of the 3-D effects, which are further enhanced by IMAX, are even equal to "Avatar" in some parts. The creation of a duel inside a cyclone challenges the wildest imagination for any previous martial arts film ever.

As a film technology innovator, Tsui Hark himself and his team studied 3-D and IMAX technologies over the past three years. He visited studios in Singapore, South Korea, the United States and of course Cameron's 3-D department. Tsui Hark said in an interview that he was doing this to bring back a certain technological confidence to Asian films.

Although "Flying Swords of the Dragon Gate" may not be Tsui Hark's best work, from a technical standpoint it raises the bar for Chinese filmmakers and could be a watershed for the Chinese film production.

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