If you were to take the CGI effects of Hugo, the amount of characters from Snatch, and the impressive fighting choreography from Hero, the outcome would probably look a lot like Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. This is a wuxia movie that uses the impressive 3D and computer generated effects to create a magical looking film filled with excellent action and beautiful scenery that will suck you into the apparent anti-gravity universe that all of the characters inhabit. Before this movie, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a battle take place inside a tornado, so it’s easy to say that there was a lot in this movie that was an over the top blast. Unfortunately, far too many characters with far too little motivation prohibited this movie from reaching the standards of classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and left it just as a movie that had great action and looked really nice.
After the Emperor’s eunuchs have split themselves into the two Bureaus of the East and West, ideas of justice and law soon went flying out the window. Zhou Huai’an (Jet Li) is a wandering warrior who has decided that it is up to him to protect these ideas of law and order by assassinating the heads of the Bureaus and eventually the Emperor. When a sandstorm threatens to cause major havoc in the area, a group of thieves and soldiers for the Emperor find themselves hiding in the Dragon Inn, but what they don’t know about each other, Zhou will use to his advantage. The thieves are here to find the hidden gold of Dragon Gate and the soldiers are there to kill a maid who was impregnated illegally in the Emperor’s court. Zhou begins to play these group off each other, but soon becomes involved in finding the gold at Dragon Gate with the boisterous group of thieves.
Normally, I like to name the main characters in movies and what they are doing, and even who they are played by, but I really don’t think I’d be able to with the overload of stories and characters in Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. There was a point about half way through the movie where I was worried if I wasn’t paying enough attention, and that’s not a feeling that I want to experience when I’m watching a movie. Confusion is one thing, but feeling like you’re missing something is totally different. When all of the characters are in the vicinity of the Dragon Inn, I was starting to sort of piece together what was going on, but I was still pretty unclear. This is because there are so many characters with not enough motivation and narrative drive. Things were happening without too much explanation. There were a few interesting characters, one of them being Jet Li’s role, so obviously this is who the movie focuses on…?
Since Jet Li started the movie off with a bang with an excellent action sequence and then following up on his story with important scenes involving his mission, I was completely invested in what his character was doing and I was really into it. Too bad after I was really getting into the story, a giant handful of new characters show up and Jet Li disappears for a good amount of time. This is the time where I really started losing track of the plot because this is where the plot about finding the gold comes in, and compared to assassinating government officials in flying scenes of swordplay, this seems a lot less interesting. Another problem is that the movie becomes just as cramped as the Dragon Inn, itself. All of these characters and all of their plots are carelessly mushed into one movie and it just left me baffled.
While the story gets messed up in a really bad way, the action and special effects are spectacular. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate really is a spectacle in every sense of the word. The action scenes offer some really awesome slow motion and interesting choreography with weapons that made me laugh at the craziness of it all. The genre of wuxia has a lot of cool things to offer in terms of plot, but the action is what normally really gets me. Much like Hero, this movie puts the computer generated effects to good use with a combination of balletic swordplay and beautiful CGI backdrops and other effects.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate isn’t particularly a good movie in every sense of the word, but in terms of how cool it is, it excels. The visuals are all mind blowingly awesome and the fight choreography meshes very well with the countless number of effects happening all around the characters. If the plot was just structured better and there were a few less characters, this film would probably be remembered as a martial arts classic. Unfortunately, this is a movie that will probably be missed or completely forgotten by people who aren’t completely devoted to this genre.