Story: Zhao Huai'an (Jet Li) fights against the corrupt eunuchs of the country. When he has almost shut down the Eastern Bureau
he raises the interest of the leader of the Western Bureau Yu Huatian (Aloys Chen). A maid that escaped the palace, Su Huirong (Mavis Fan), is
said to be protected by Zhao. In fact the protector is Ling Yanqiu (Zhou Xun) who only pretends to be him. Ling and Su escape to the Dragon Gate
where the two find shelter at an inn. There Yu's right hand (Sheng Chien) and his men are already waiting for them. Also present are the Tartar
princess Buludu (Guey Lun-Mei) and the female fighter Gu Shaotang (Li Yuchun) with her companion Wind Blade who happens to bear a striking resemblance
to Yu Huatian. It seems that there is a secret treasure the Tartars want to get their hands on, but the other parties also have their personal
agendas. Just before a devastating sandstorm heads their way the real Zhao Huai'an enters the inn and a confrontation seems inevitable.
Review: China's first Wuxia-movie that has been shot completely in 3-D is from grandmaster Tsui Hark. This movie is actually a
remake of King Hu's "Dragon Gate Inn" from 1966 resp. of the sequel/remake from the year 1992 which was also produced by Tsui Hark. Tsui stresses
that this is really a re-interpretation of the story and not a remake but that's of no importance at all since unfortunately the story is
only playing a minor role. Visually stunning CGI-effects and action are in the movie's focus. Sadly, liveless characters, numerous plot holes (yes,
even in a fantasy flick they can be pretty annoying) and a half-heartedly written screenplay are responsible for the viewer having not nearly as
much fun with this film as would have been possible.
The biggest asset of "The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" are without a doubt the 3-D effects and of all things that's what I couldn't benefit from. However, those who have the necessary equipment at home will get their money's worth considering all the impressive camera movements and flying daggers and swords. Chuck Comisky, who was also responsible for the effects in "Avatar", has been hired by Tsui Hark just for this purpose. Nevertheless, without the full benefit of the 3-D effects the world of this Wuxia-movie feels extremely artificial. Director Hark has always had a lot of good ideas, but the implementation of them are also the source for many of his movies' problems. Especially in this one many slow-motion sequences and eyewashing posing in front of the camera can be a nuisance. If you are looking for real action you won't find it here, many of the stuff you get to see is just an illusion.
An illusion a lot of money has been put into, but considering the imagination of the director a lot more money would have been necessary. Maybe he shouldn't have cast Jet Li for the leading role, who cost him the respectable sum of 12 million dollar and strangely is incredibly neglected by the screenplay. Tsui Hark without a doubt flexes his imagination muscles and especially the finale including a giant sandstorm makes for some eyecandy, but what's annoying is that "Flying Swords" looks like a bombastic Hollywood movie and has just as little profoundness to it. Consequently, it has to be stated that this film might have good chances to be promoted overseas but will also disappoint movie fans. Except of one or two nice twists the story can't be enthralling for long and if you look past the smoke and mirrors of the special effects there isn't really much left.
What's also a shame is the fact that we don't get any real Kung Fu here. Wild bouncing around, whereas half the time the individuals are completely computer-generated, a lot of special effects and flashy movements that lack any essence only make the martial arts fan smile in pity. Has Jet Li really become that old that he can't even shoot a few decent fight scenes anymore? No, it just seems to be that modern style, apparently. Lots of CGI-effects and garish colors. That's odd because in other respects the film proves to be a silly return to 90s Wuxia flicks. And that's where also the movie's strong points are located. You can't deny a certain feeling of nostalgia. However, "New Dragon Gate Inn" is still a lot better.
The pictures are great to look at, especially the shots in the desert are fantastic, but the soundtrack is forcing itself too much into the foreground and doesn't sound right at all times. What's also striking is that the movie has no real structure. Oftentimes you get the feeling that the movie jumps from one set to the next. The shallow characters also don't provide anything special. Zhou Xun ("Painted Skin") tries hard but the real stars of the film are the supporting characters which all manage to be more interesting than Xun and Li together. Especially Aloys Chen (also to be seen in "Painted Skin") and Guey Lun-Mei ("Secret") as the tough-as-nails Tartar-leader are very charismatic.
Tsui Hark delivers shallow popcorn entertainment, that will disappoint any real Wuxia-fan. Then again, maybe that's just my opinion. Still, Tsui can definitely do better than this. Owners of a 3-D TV are welcome to add a point to the overall rating, though.