Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate is the first wuxia (a type of Chinese martial arts fiction) film to be shot in 3D, and stars Jet Li as a vigilante working against an empire that has turned corrupt. Director and writer Tsui Hark revisits the world of Dragon Inn in this latest iteration of a mystical place where good and evil collide.
It's hard to know how much of Hark's previous film set in this world, Dragon Inn, you're supposed to be aware of before watching Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate. I would hope a little, because taken on its own this new movie is a bit of a mess in the story department.
The setup lays out how the controlling empire of eunuchs have turned corrupt and begun to terrorize the land. A renegade warrior by the name of Zhao Gwai'on (Jet Li) is standing up to them and protecting some of the people being persecuted. At the same time, a copycat warrior is also pretending to be Zhao, spreading the seeds of a rebellion. One of the head eunuchs is searching out one of his victims to punish, who has found protection with the copycat Zhao. Their paths all seem to converge at the Dragon Gate Inn, where not only is there a legendary storm approaching, but also is rumored to be the site of some lost gold. And then there are these barbarians hanging out there... Look, it just starts to get a bit complicated.
Basically there are about four stories that are either started and then abandoned, or else merge into something else by the third act. Some characters have doubles that aren't explained, some characters seem to die but then don't, and then some characters seem to switch loyalties depending on the whim of the scene. And the weirdest thing is that it's not totally confusing while you're watching, but when trying to piece together what happened after the fact, words will fail you. In truth, this movie is almost completely style over substance, but the good news is that style totally wins in a big way, and even makes sense of some things that the story fails with. For example, you have an innate sense of who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. In amongst all of that you have a lot of magical fighting. Do you really need more than that out of your martial arts/wuxia movie where everyone is already shunning the laws of gravity and physics? Logic is a bit player here, if we're honest, as long as at least one hero comes through with some honor still intact.
Video / 3D
In short, this is one of the best 3D video presentations I've seen, and is the true calling card of this release. Not only is the extra dimensionality used to full effect, but it's obvious that the movie was shot by design to take advantage of 3D, and not just as a conversion afterthought. For the most part, it adds amazing depth to each scene, although it does also have some fun with a few pop-out effects. But this extra depth really brings out some of the lush camera work and truly makes this feel like a different experience from the 2D version. Even detail and color seem a bit more defined in 3D, perhaps due to focused placement within the visual layers. One odd downside is that the only subtitle option available on the 3D disc is an English SDH track that adds text details of sound effects in with the dialogue (for the benefit of those who are hearing impaired). It's a lot of text on screen to juggle if that's not something you need, and especially in 3D can be a bit much to divert eye focus.