Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jet Li, Zhou Xun, Chen Kun, Li Yuchun, Kwai Lun-mei, Louis Fan, Mavis Fan, Wu Di, Zhuang Guoqi, Li Yuan, Gordon Liu, Zhang Xinyu
Written by: Tsui Hark
Directed by: Tsui Hark
MPAA Rating: R for some violence
Language: Mandarin, with English subtitles
Running Time: 122
Date: 12/15/2011

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Brave and the Gold

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

By all counts, Tsui Hark is one of the finest action filmmakers in the world. As a director or a producer, he has been responsible for some of the greatest Hong Kong films made since the 1980s, including, but not limited to: Peking Opera Blues (1986), A Better Tomorrow (1986), A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), The Killer (1989), Once Upon a Time in China (1991), Swordsman II (1992), Iron Monkey (1993), and Time and Tide (2000).

Now, even though he isn't about to receive any Oscar nominations or accolades from American critics, he seems to have achieved a measure of trust from the money people. He was entrusted with the giant-sized production Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, which was released in some theaters in IMAX and 3D.

It's ostensibly a remake of Tsui's own Dragon Inn (1992), which was itself a remake of King Hu's Dragon Inn (1966), though Tsui has said that it's more of a "re-imagining." (I haven't seen either of the early films, so I can't compare.)

The plot is exceedingly complex, and involves about a dozen major characters, led by Zhou Huai'an (Jet Li), and including a ferocious, tattooed tribal princess (Kwai Lun-mei). There's a caf´┐Ż that may or may not serve human flesh, and some eunuchs, but the main point is to get all these folks to a hidden temple filled with gold. The temple is located under the desert sand and is uncovered once every sixty years. Once there, they begin bickering over the gold, which leads to a terrific showdown. In a nice touch, one character leaves deadly gold threads stretched everywhere; they're difficult to see, but razor sharp.

Despite the movie's excessive length and incomprehensible plot, Tsui is still one of the world's absolute best at action and fight sequences; they move fast, but they're dazzlingly fluid and smooth. And though Jet Li does not have one of his best roles here, he's at least a big enough star with a big enough screen presence that he manages to fill in some blanks.

Indomina Releasing released the new Blu-ray, with an optional 3D Blu-ray for those with that technology. It comes with a few short making-of featurettes and interviews, which, for longtime Tsui fans, are a good bonus. Designed for the IMAX screen, the picture quality is immensely sharp and deep on Blu-ray, with high sound quality to match.

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