Flying Swords of Dragon Gate Blu-ray Review

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate [Blu-ray]
Price : $24.99

The creative and visually-appealing usage of CGI and green screen in Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City and Zach Snyder’s 300 have inspired other filmmakers to become lazy copycats. This type of visual look that was displayed by those two films in the mid-2000s is still quite popular for filmmakers who want to make a visually creative film without spending big bucks on the budget. It’s ironic when any filmmaker creates a brand-new visual look, the many directors that try the same effect usually come up short. One would think that a recipe can be copied to a T but these filmmakers can’t repeat magic. Reality copies fiction in a way that cinema bad guys (aka copycat directors) steal technology secrets from the good guys (innovative directors) but they can’t achieve an exact replica of the amazing technology. Robocop will succeed, but the copycat ED-209 will fail. In the last 50 years, think about all those other films that have introduced new visual styles: Kubrick’s 2001, Lucas’ Star Wars; Scott’s Blade Runner and Alien; Cameron’s The Abyss, Terminator 2, Titanic, and Avatar; Spielberg’s Jurassic Park; the Wachowskis’ The Matrix; Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, and finally Rodriguez’ Sin City. These innovative movies have spawned countless knockoffs that just turn out to be forgettable films in the long run. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is just another one of these copycats that can just be thrown onto the pile of instantly forgettable CGI-laden flicks.

As a remake/sequel to the awesome 1992 Hong Kong classic Dragon Inn, Flying Swords of Dragon gate takes place three years after the infamous Dragon Inn (known for serving human meat) was burnt down in the desert. With innkeeper Jade (played by Maggie Cheung in the original film) long gone, a new gang of bandits take over as innkeepers by day and treasure hunters by night. The inn is rumored to be the location of a lost city buried under the desert, and its hidden treasure would only be revealed by a huge storm every sixty years. With a storm coming on the horizon, the situation becomes more complicated when a pregnant concubine escapes a corrupt palace to come hide in the inn with the aid of a mysterious woman (played by Zhou Xun). Chasing the concubine are evil Imperial Assassins led by the powerful eunuch Yu (played by Chen Kun) who are all stealthily followed by not-evil assassin Zhao (played by Jet Li), who is hunting down Yu in order to stop his reign of corruption back at the palace. With bad weather approaching, everyone is stuck in this Mos Eisley Cantina-type inn with nowhere to go. Tension rises as the good guys and bad guys squabble until a huge bloody fight breaks out during the climax.

While Flying Swords Dragon Gate is recognized as China’s second blockbuster 3D film (2011’s Sex and Zen 3D was China’s first one), I can’t say if the 3D was amazing or not since I didn’t see it in the theaters nor do I have a 3D television. But watching this film in 2D was not a pleasurable experience at all. Director Tsui Hark uses green screen and CGI in all the wrong ways which reminded me of the CGI-special effect days of Lawnmower Man and Mortal Kombat. Dragon Gate must have been created to be only watched in 3D because Tsui Hark knows how to successfully use special effects as was displayed in his previous film Detective Dee – one of the best Chinese films of 2010. Dragon Gate is filled with an overkill amount of 1990s-style special effects: in the foreground, we get to watch flat cartoonish-looking arrows, daggers, and spears fill up the screen. In one scene, Jet Li has a swaying-in-the-wind headband that looks animated with a black crayon. In another, a character falls to her death as she gradually morphs from a human being into a Sony Playstation Final Fantasy-animated character. And in the background, we get to watch flat cartoonish-looking storm clouds, skies, cliffs, and caves imperfectly blend in with the characters.

If the story and action are good enough, I can usually ignore amateurish special effects, but Dragon Gate does not have an interesting screenplay. The story and dialogue are nothing but filler to get from one cartoonish action scene to the next. The fight choreography was actually well-staged but was sped up in a visually unpleasant way. And once again, in every fight scene there was too much CGI crap flooding the screen that I wanted to shoo away as if they were annoying mosquitoes.

Most disappointing is that Tsui Hark does not infuse his usual creative flair into Dragon Gate. Directed by Tsui Hark it may be, I didn’t sense any of his unique style here. If you are in the mood to see how talented Tsui Hark is, skip Flying Swords of Dragon Gate and check out his awesome Once Upon a Time In China films, Detective Dee, The Blade, and Dragon Inn.

Even as I am not a fan of the visual look of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, the 1080p 2.40:1 is perfectly fine with nothing wrong as long as you don’t mind the overkill amount of cartoonish CGI awkwardly merging with the real actors as they stand in front of obvious CGI backdrops. The level of detail on people and objects is amazing with no artifacting or compression problems. All the colors appear to have been rendered well on the non-CGI objects (actors, real props and sets). Blacks are well defined and the shadow detail is flawless.

The Mandarin DTS-HD 5.1 is very, very impressive. Dragon Gate has a lot of action, and with this track, rear channels and surrounds are used to full force as weaponry is flung all over the place on screen. There are no problems with audio sync and dialogue is totally clear with no need to fuss with volume control. This well-balanced mix should please all!

Since I wasn’t blown away with Dragon Gate, I also rewatched some scenes with the included English Dolby Digital 2.0 dub which definitely made the film funnier.

English and English SDH subtitles are also included.

The extras include the usual “the director is so amazing” interviews, we get to see Tsui Hark act in the “it’s good to be the king” mode, and we get a decent amount of “behind-the-scenes” of how the film was ruined with the green screen process. These are your usual extras here – decent but nothing special.

– Making of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate Part 1 (4:48)
– Making of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate Part 2 (9:16)
– Interviews with Cast and Filmmakers (20:21)
– Behind the Scenes (32:21)
– Trailers for Flying Swords of Dragon Gate and other releases

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is a movie I can’t really recommend. It may be entertaining to watch on 3D Blu-ray, but in 2D, this film disappoints. The abundance of amateurish CGI and green-screen scenes smeared all over the place is really distracting. If a filmmaker can’t use new visual styles well, they should use them in small quantities rather than flood the screen with so much muck. If this film was released after the original film in the 1990s, the old-school special effects commonly used in the Hong Kong film industry during that time could have turned Flying Swords of Dragon Gate into a classic. Just because the new film technology exists (green screen, CGI, 3D), it doesn’t mean it will make the film better. Some directors know how to film with these special effects, while the same technology can curse a film. It is quite possible that respectable directors known for having unique special effects during a particular era cannot keep up with the times or the many advances in technology (John Carpenter or Joe Dante, for example). If Dragon Gate used traditionally filmed fight scenes with real weapon props, all those cartoony weapons would have been cooler to look at and the fight scenes would have been more memorable. Even the aluminum-foil looking weapons from the older Shaw Bros films look better than two-dimensional CGI weapons. The Blu-ray video and audio quality is pretty incredible at least!

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate [Blu-ray]
Price : $24.99