Set three years after Dragon Inn, innkeeper Jade has disappeared and a new inn has risen from the ashes - one that's staffed by marauders masquerading as law-abiding citizens, who hope to unearth the fabled lost city buried in the desert.
The Emperor's eunuchs have gained power and influence, the East Bureau and West Bureau spy and police the nation. They visit the shipyards, but only as a cover to execute those who would try and report their taking of bribes to the Emperor. Zhao Huai'an fights the leader of the East Bureau, defeating him and putting his head in a box and hanging it as a warning to other corrupt officials. The Emperor's chief concubine wants them to prevent the Emperor impregnating anyone aside from her. Three pregnant courtesans have been executed, a fourth is being hunted down. Officials stop a riverboat and are about to execute a woman but a masked hero intervenes. Zhao watches from nearby and the masked hero also claims to be Zhao. The imposter helps the courtesan flee to Dragons Gate, Zhao and his followers decide to fight the West Bureau to help delay them and aid in the escape.Written by
This movie is the sixth collaboration between Jet Li and director, Tsui Hark. Tsui Hark directed Once Upon a Time in China 1, 2, and 3, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate and The Master. Tsui Hark also wrote the screenplay for Black Mask which Jet Li also starred in. See more »
A Nutshell Review: The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
The Flying Swords of Dragon Inn expands upon the mythos created in the earlier two films, and throws in a lot more formidable characters as well as their respective selfish objectives and missions, starting with the lead character of Zhou Huai'an (Jet Li), a vigilante in the Ming Dynasty responsible for a spate of killings of corrupt court officials. With the King forming the East and West Bureaus in the same fashion as the FBI and CIA respectively, an incredible set action piece that serves as a prologue has Zhou dispatching the head of the East Bureau in a special appearance by the legendary Gordon Liu, to make the case of how powerful Zhou is with his lightning quick reflexes and special moves that we don't see much of, and gets that special effects boost as well.
You see, Zhou disappears for about more than half the movie, which is a pity since Jet Li's star billing is used everywhere. Like a wandering swordsman who pops up every now and then to help the poor and the weak, the damsel in distress here is a palace handmaiden (Mavis Fan) who is on the run for carrying what would be the Dragon baby, impregnated by a naturally lecherous Emperor whose concubine sets the entire plot in motion for wanting any female with the possibility of producing a bloodline to the throne terminated. With Yu Hua Tian (Chen Kun), the head of the West Bureau her pillow partner, the game is afoot when the handmaiden gets rescued by Ling Lanqiu (Zhou Xun), the female equivalent of Zhou Huai'an whose brooding demeanour hints at a past romantic liaison with Zhou, and who harbours some secrets of the infamous Dragon Inn which is now populated by rag tag characters,
There are subplots galore in the film, whose screenplay is also written by Tsui Hark, that will call for your utmost attention in order to keep pace and make sense of it all, some properly developed while others relying on your past knowledge of the Dragon Inn mythos as foundation in which this retelling is based on, allowing you to connect the dots why certain events are done the way they are now. For instance, in Hu's original film, there are bloodlines on the run which get congregated at Dragon Inn, and this one loosely follows that rationale. And for once, we know why various groups descend upon this inn in the middle of nowhere, if not for the very ordinary reason of having treasure buried somewhere in the midst of the vast wasteland, and to hunt for it meant to exploit the tunnels beneath the inn, make sense of some inscribed couplets, and depending on 1 in 60 years (not 1 in 50 years ponding in Singapore mind you) geographic events to allow all the cards to fall into place.
However, like all great martial arts epic, the fun always lies with the villains, and Flying Swords boasts a memorable number of them. Chen Kun's Yu Hua Tian has in possession the title Flying Swords that brings back the hey days where gimmicky weapons are the order of the day in swordfighting films, and is himself an adversary who knows no mercy. His double role here makes this almost like a Chen Kun starrer, and a well deserved one for the performance put in as characters on either side of the fence. His cronies too are as bad as bad can be, and are exponents in their own right, with Fan Siu Wong as the masked Ma Jing Liang, and the Western Bureau second in command Tan Lu Zi (Sheng Jian) who unfortunately gets outfoxed most of the time.
As a martial arts film, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate has enough variance in its fighting stances and styles, and to exploit 3D, naturally has stocked up on its flying dagger numbers to provide for those throw-toward-the-screen moments. It's quite hit and miss here, as some effects were wondrously too rich and too artificial that takes you out of the movie and may look more in place in a science fiction film instead, while others are done just right to blend in with the period surroundings. With a number of Chinese films these days just slapping on special effects like it was butter on bread (Culprits being films like Legendary Amazons, The Sorcerer and White Snake which also starred Jet Li, and just about every period flick coming out in the last year or two), this one may have to convince those who are turned off by the earlier shoddy productions.
Tsui Hark continues to reinvent himself with each technological leap, with his Zu Warriors of the Magic Mountain (1983, not the 2001 monstrosity), the Once Upon a Time in China series, and now with Detective Dee leading the charge and sealing the deal for his comeback, Flying Swords may just be that magic ticket Tsui Hark needs to re-establish himself as one of the greats in Asian cinema after a woeful past decade. It may not be an instant classic, but Flying Swords does have the necessary ingredients to make it amongst the game changing tent- poles of the genre.
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