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Original Title:
Lung fu moon

Hong Kong 2006

Action, Martial Arts

Wilson Yip

Donnie Yen
Nicholas Tse
Shawn Yue
Chen Kuan-Tai
Dong Jie
Li Xiaoran
Yuen Wah
Sheren Tang
Vincent Sze
Yuan Xiao Li

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Dragon Tiger Gate

Story: Tiger (Nicholas Tse) is a promising young Martial Artist, who is a student of the "Dragon Tiger Gate" school. When one day he sees a guy getting bullied in a restaurant he can't help but to intervene. Unfortunately, he also clashes with the organisation of powerful underground boss Ma Kwun (Chen Kuan-Tai). Moreover, he even steals an important medallion from him, which was given to Ma from evil crime lord Lousha, serving as a symbol for free hand in several businesses in the neighborhood.
Dragon (Donnie Yen), the right hand of Ma Kwun, gets the medallion back, but not without leveling to ground another restaurant, when getting into a fight with Tiger and Turbo (Shawn Yue), a guy who by chance is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It appears that Dragon is the older brother of Tiger, who had to leave "Dragon Tiger Gate" school several years ago. Tiger and the school's master want Dragon to come back, but out of gratefulness to his foster-father Ma Kwun, Dragon has to decline the offer. It seems that the two brothers are now fighting on two different sides, but soon a mutual enemy, Lousha, arises. A man whose cruelty and savageness arouses the hate of both brothers. One thing is for certain: Without the help of Dragon, Tiger and "Dragon Tiger Gate" new apprentice Turbo won't stand a chance against Lousha.

Review: Wilson Yip delivered a fine piece of Hong Kong cinema with his dark and gritty "SPL". No wonder that expectations were pretty high for his new movie, but any way you look at it, "Dragon Tiger Gate" is just a big disappointment. A money-making, colorful and CGI-loaden exercise in stupid over-the-top action, that no one really needs. That's what we get with this screen adaption of the successful Hong Kong comic of the 70s. Starring in this flick are the "hottest" actors available in HK, nowadays, and of course Donnie Yen who embodies everything that will annoy you in this movie after the first ten minutes: loud nonstop action with a coolness factor that is more than intrusive. I really appreciate good action, but a little bit of substance wouldn't have hurt, would it? Even if it would have been just a little...

Let's just stick with the real problem of the movie: Donnie Yen. What is there to say about this man? Yes, he is an excellent Martial Artist and his fighting choreographies stand out with inventiveness and power. Later on there is enough praise for his fight sequences, so let's just point out what's there to criticize.
It's almost embarrassing how hard Yen tries with already 43 years on his shoulders to look like a hip 20-years-old. If he is on the screen then he suddenly becomes the center of the universe (at least of his own universe). The wind constantly blows through his hair and he can't be outdone in his coolness by anyone else. However, it's also just too much. Donnie Yen is so occupied with looking good on screen that one has to wonder if he isn't actually... well, how to put this... gay?! Is there any guy that sets so incredibly great value on his appearance? Be that as it may, you can't deny that there is one hell of a narcissist hiding in Donnie Yen. And he comes out more often than what we are willing to endure.

The comic-strip-like introduction strongly reminds us of those of the Marvel-comic screen adaptations and so you also shouldn't be surprised to see all actors fight in tight jeans and with perfectly styled hair, that is always covering half of their face. This is one big fashion show, that is only topped by the very bold advertisement for Nokia-handies on several occassions during the movie. Yes, it's all a bit ridiculous, but since this is supposed to be a comic book screen adaption, it somehow remains within a frame you can work with as a viewer. Even the CGI-effects, which were heavily used to push the over-the-top action almost over the edge and which were also used to create many of the sky scrapers and backgrounds, may look somewhat cheap at times, but nonetheless fit into this comic-like world surprisingly good. Everything is depicted in garish colors, yet many of the sets also look very slick and inventive. Especially some of the landscape shots which very enhanced by CGI-created temples, towers etc. look almost breathtaking. Sadly, the producers didn't know how to use the great cinematography to their advantage and so almost any picture is somehow wasted in this flick.

The movie's biggest flaw is its story which prevents us from being engaged by the well-done pictures. Generally, it's just about the eternal fight of good against evil, with some stereotypical relationship revelations inserted, a love story and many pointless backgroundstories that don't serve any purpose at all. Latter are told in flashbacks and even unnecessarily slow down the pacing. It's not really important what's happening on screen, anyway, so we may ask ourselves why the director didn't put his focus on other aspects of the plot. For instance, the main villian really would have deserved more time on screen. He gets almost no introduction and is thrown into the movie way too late for us to care about him or what his goals are. Why is he in the movie, anyway? Well, because... he is the villian! We never weave a bond of hatred or any other emotion towards him and it also doesn't seem to be necessary that we learn to despise him, even though he does kill some of the more important characters. It all doesn't matter as long as there is someone our heroes can do some serious slapping to at the end. That's really weak...

Concerning the acting achievements you shouldn't expect any gold, of course. But any kind of metal would have been good, also, if you get my drift. Instead we are presented with badly written characters, that are only standing out, because of their uber-coolness. Nicholas Tse ("New Police Story") is supposed to be one of the main protagonists, but he plays his part very shallow and has nearly no onscreen presence, except when it comes to the fight scenes.
Shawn Yue ("Infernal Affairs II") somehow has this mysteriously-cool charisma to him, but his character also isn't anything to write home about, even though he is without a doubt the most interesting fellow of the three heroes.
It's not a big surprise that Donnie Yen ("Hero", "SPL") can't act, but he also really can hide it better than here. He tries to score with some emotional scenes, but especially his exaggerated acting during these moments stands in stark contrast to his coolness, even if the quantity of these scenes is kept within limits.

If you keep in mind what "Dragon Tiger Gate" is at its core, namely silly popcorn entertainment, than it's the more irritating that the flick is surprisingly serious in its undertone and serves us only with little to none funny moments. The dramatic scenes don't work out anyway, so some more humor really could have played to the movie's advantage.
To director Wilson Yip's credit it has to be pointed out, that there are in fact some nice shots throughout the movie. Especially the brawl at the restaurant shot from bird's-eye perspective comes to mind. Thanks to the fact that this movie is based on a comic series, there are some inventive shots, that can be really eye-catching, but this is all for nothing as there is no content to fill the nice wrapping.

So, somehow you just find yourself waiting for the next battle. Luckily, Donnie Yen did put some great effort into his choreography once again. Nicholas Tse shows us that he is capable of dealing out some nice high kicks and even Shawn Yue doesn't cut a bad figure with his nunchakus, and this even though they both are no real martial artists at all. Of course, there is also some serious wire-work involved and the CGI-effects also play their part when the surroundings are smashed and cracked in big-time comic-style. Furthermore, there are also some special moves the characters learn throughout the movie, that are pretty nice to look at. However, realism is nothing to be looked for, here.
Donnie Yen even invented a rather odd fighting style for his role, which surely doesn't exist the way it is depicted here, as it mainly stands out because of its stylish hand-fidgeting. Nevertheless, there is no doubt, when it is great fights you want, Yen is the man!

At the end, there is nothing left of the energetic and at times incredibly silly entertainment, that is called "Dragon Tiger Gate". The fights are a reason to watch this flick, and for some fans of the original comic it might be tempting to take a look as the artist of the comic series Tony Wong Yuk Long has a little cameo as Master Qi. However, the rest is just trivial and not worth your money. A movie that is as satisfying as a synthetic Big Mac. There is lots of artificial stuff, that seems to be appealing to your taste, yet at the end you just have to come to the conclusion: It's not what I really wanted...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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