So once again we have survived.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D Imax

Wait a minute, you’re telling me that a Tsui Hark/Jet Li movie is showing in 3D Imax in my town? Shit, that’s something I gotta experience, something I gotta support. I managed to squeak it in on the next-to-last day of the 2 week limited engagement, so I’m sorry that I failed to give some of you a heads up.

Apparently this is a remake of DRAGON GATE INN (1966) which was already remade as NEW DRAGON GATE INN/DRAGON INN (1992), neither of which I’ve seen. It is not a remake of DRAGON TIGER GATE, which I have seen. Donnie Yen was offered the lead in this, but he turned it down because he was already in the ’92 version and thought that would be weird to do another one. Or maybe he was confusing it with DRAGON TIGER GATE and didn’t want to revisit the goofy hair style he had in that.

So instead Li plays Zhou Huai’an, a legendary outlaw warrior who in the great opening scene attacks, taunts, duels and defeats the wicked leader of the East Bureau, a eunuch played by the great Gordon Liu. In the opening the score (which is great throughout) reminded me of a Shaw Brothers movie, and you see right away that this is an old school wuxia style with crazy sound effects and super powered fighters who can run up walls and float around like Peter Pan. The overall feel is traditional, but it also has all those busy digital establishing shots like we’ve seen in Hark’s DETECTIVE DEE, John Woo’s RED CLIFF, going back to Ridley Scott’s GLADIATOR. And they have the old fashioned gravity defying fights achieved through wire removal, but with the computers adding weapons and atmospheric effects and shit.

Zhou wears dark clothes and a big hat that covers his face, is prone to leap up and pose on wooden beams and shit, and his legend precedes him. I thought of him as a wire-fu Zorro. In fact, he’s so mythologized that some lady is going around pretending to be him, getting away with it just because of the hat. The real Zhou and his two homies follow her around watching what she does, and even they call her a “he.” Zhou doesn’t want to interfere because he likes that she goes around rescuing people.

Also there’s this Eastern Bureau who never liked Gordon Liu anyway but after Zhou literally sends them his head in a box (okay, I guess Zorro wouldn’t have done that) they gotta go after him. Their leader Yu Huatian (Chen Kun) is one of these prissy, kind of effeminate out-of-touch-but-deadly leaders they always had in those empires according to these movies.

If I had seen either of the other versions I guess I would know they were headed toward the Dragon Inn, a withered desert outpost near a buried palace full of treasure that, legend has it, is uncovered in a sandstorm once every 60 years. And wait a minute, let me check the calendar here… yes, indeed we’re at the end of that 60 years. There are various parties hanging out at the inn waiting to try to hunt this treasure. The most notable one is the Tartar princess (Kwai Lun-mei) and her monster-toothed bodyguard (not sure who the actor is, but I like him). They look like brutes and are covered in face tattoos and the princess likes to laugh condescendingly at everybody and then speak in her native tongue so they don’t know what they’re being made fun of for.

I hardly ever get a chance to see this genre of movies on the big screen, but even at home with the power of pause and rewind I have to admit they’re harder for me to follow than most other types of movies. There are alot of characters to keep track of here and because of my cultural ignorance it’s hard to keep track of the names. You saw my chart I had to make to try to follow RED CLIFF. But of course I loved that movie and I’m willing both to work to understand what’s going on and to keep enjoying it when I can’t.

Unfortunately this had a much harder problem than usual – the subtitles combined with the Imax and the 3D were too much for my eyeballs. I’d never been in this particular Imax auditorium – it’s not the one where DARK KNIGHT RISES and shit play. The screen goes all the way down to the ground, but it’s gigantic Imax size, so your eyes have to scan down below to read the words and then up above to see the pictures. Worse, because it’s 3D you’re constantly re-focusing from words in the foreground to faces further in. It’s very similar to the visually-whiplash I got from the opening credits of PIRANHA 3D. It only took a few minutes before I literally had sore eyes. I quickly realized that in some scenes I was just gonna have to let the dialogue go and watch the imagery, otherwise what was the point of seeing it in 3D? So I definitely lost track of alot of what was going on and didn’t get as much out of it as I would’ve liked.

As a fan of 3D and not of dubbing foreign language films I always wondered if this would be a problem. At least in this execution of it, and for me, it’s a big problem. I wonder if maybe it would work better to put the subtitles inside the frame at the depth of the thing you’re supposed to focus on? That would be pretty bizarre but maybe it would be easier to watch.

On the other hand I remember that AVATAR had some subtitles in it and I don’t think they were a problem, so maybe there’s a better way to do it. Or maybe you gotta do it with movies that have less reliance on dialogue, more quiet moments. This one has a long section in the middle that’s just the people in the inn talking about shit, with some flashbacks. Where they came from, what they know about the treasure, what they think the words on the Dragon Gate mean. It’s alot to take in and doesn’t help the movie that Jet Li is not there.

Another note about the presentation: this was a real Imax screen and sound system that I think is normally used for real Imax, it this was digital projection. I gotta respect it because it made a limited release like this possible, I’m sure they didn’t strike up prints. But also the Imax people have got to notice that they gotta get better projectors than this to live up to their name. Most of it looks fine, but on a giant screen like that certain shots (like all the cool far away shots with little people walking around) looked really pixelated like a low res computer file.

But the 3D is spectacular and this is why despite everything I’m really glad I went to see it this way. It was shot 3D, not faked in a computer (but with tons of digital additions to the live action – swarms of birds, sandstorms, every imaginable projectile). Apparently they got a guy named Chuck Comisky, who was the visual effects supervisor for AVATAR, to oversee the 3D. Hark’s use of the medium reminds me of my favorite 3D ever, the Robert Zemeckis Creep-o-vision trilogy. There are many shots floating over and through interesting buildings and ships and landscapes. There’s no shyness about doing the main thing 3D should be used for, that people always incorrectly say it should not be used for, which is to have 3D shit flying out of the screen. It’s not a constant barrage, but there’s a respectable amount of 3D throwing knives, arrows, punches, flying wooden beams, flying Jet Lis. My favorite is when he’s whipping and swinging around a huge chain. You’re telling me, fellow writers on the films of cinema, that you prefer a 3D movie where all objects remain peacefully in the distance to one where Jet Li swings a huge chain around? Sorry, you and 3D movies are not working out. 3D movies are gonna have to let you go.

You know what’s cool? Jet Li wearing a headband, and the wind is blowing, and the tail of the headband is blowing in front of him, reaching out of the screen toward us. Simple things like that can be beautiful.

The most important thing is that Hark knows to emphasize depth and layers in all of his shots. More often than not the foreground will have a barrel or a rock or a corner of a building or a wooden beam, or we’ll be looking through some trees or a bamboo grate or down a stairway at the people and there will be other things in the distance. Shitty or mediocre 3D movies just have people standing around somewhat separated from their background, good ones make you sense a world all around you, or at least feel like you’re looking into a world that you could step into and be surrounded by.

The fights are kinetic and cartoonish, the style that’s more about exaggerated abilities than any real type of fighting. Splitting or catching arrows in the air, running up and down walls, balancing on chains, that type of thing. 3D is a real good component to add to this type of action, it works really well. I think the Imax part is kind of a liability though. It’s not hard to follow, but it would be easier on a screen that wasn’t so overwhelming.

I think after a great introduction Li unfortunately leaves the movie for too long to create a character for the ages. Or maybe I just missed too many of the subtitles to understand what was going on with his romance at the end. And whatever was going on with the flute. Still, I immediately noticed how much better he was showcased in this than in the EXEPNDABLESes. He’s allowed to move more and pose like a super hero and his costume emphasizes this. It sounds like his real voice but of course he speaks better in his native language. More importantly he gets to grimace and look out on the desert like a spaghetti western anti-hero. Not his best role, but good enough to remind you why Jet Li is great.

Also he has a big fight while floating inside a tornado.

Story-wise this might do better for you on DVD and blu-ray, and some of those shots that were compromised by the digital projection will I’m sure look much better. The colors looked pretty blown out and not as vivid as the trailer below (which would’ve helped me understand the story better if I’d watch it, by the way). But if you like 3D movies and it’s still playing near you (I thought today was the last day, but the trailer suggests one more week) I suggest you get your ass over there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yw9XvGp6uqo

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, September 6th, 2012 at 1:29 pm and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D Imax”

  1. Goddamnation, Las Vegas doesn’t have this movie. It’s playing in Burbank today, but it looks like it’s not playing anywhere in L.A. tomorrow when I get there, unless movies.com isn’t fully correct.

    THIS IS BULLSHIT, UNIVERSE. YOU DON’T TEASE ME WITH A 3D IMAX MOVIE WHERE JET LI HAS A FIGHT INSIDE A TORNADO AND THEN NOT LET ME SEE IT.

    Somehow I wish I didn’t know this existed. I’m naming this one of the top 3 movies of 2012 purely on spec.

  2. It is my goal to catch this in 3D while it is still playing in theaters. The combination of Jet Li, Tsui Hark, and real 3D is one I can’t miss. I am glad to hear that Hark’s use of 3D does not disappoint.

  3. If this comes to 3D Blu Ray stateside, I will check the shit out of it. I would love to see what Tsui Hark does with 3D.

  4. Does this mean that DOUBLE TEAM 2: TRIPLE TEAM 3D is now officially going to happen for sure?

  5. Dan – The movie is fun and worth seeing. Weirdly though Tsui’s 3-D feels a little different (rather than just augmented) from his 2-D. I flat-out love how many planes of interest Tsui often packs in a 2-D screen. It’s so clean and easy to read that you pretty much instantaneously have an idea of the space and what’s happening, which lets him edit more quickly and pull the audience along. 3-D shots though can’t move as quickly (so I’ve been told by a partisan) because the extra dimension takes more mental processing time. The opening fight scene kind of bummed me out, because it wasn’t as staccato and crazed as normal … and I think 3-D’s to blame. (Plus Vern is 100% right that the subtitles pull your focus away from the image more than they do in a “flat” film.) So I think you’ll enjoy seeing how Tsui tackles 3-D, but it hit me as souped-up 3-D rather than next-level Tsui.

    The CGI … it’s a little deflating for impossible leaps and landings to be handled by a computer instead of a real guy on wires. But without CGI no one would attempt a fight in the eye of a hurricane, so it’s a decent trade-off. And the story is a good time – some details got lost, but it’s basically throw a bunch of simple characters of competing factions into a box and shake.

  6. Being a fan of the 1992 version I refuse to see this if they haven’t included the scene – in glorious 3D – where the cook hacks all the flesh off that poor guys legs at the end?!

  7. Donnie Yen also played the villain in that one. A eunuch if I recall correctly.

  8. Clearly, the title should be, “Double Te2m: Triple Play” and it will include a baseball player villain.

  9. FLYING SWORDS was shown in a regular cinema in 3D at the Fantasy Filmfest in Germany.

    I also had sometimes the problem that it was difficult to enjoy the astonishing pictures and read the subtitles at the same time, but I was impressed by the clever placement of the subtitles. They carefully placed the english subtitles in areas where they didn’t ruin the 3D effect, sometimes they even masked the subtitles if some element of the picture moved in front of them.

    I was blown away by the 3D. Every frame was composed for maximum depth. I don’t think I’ve seen another movie that achieved the same level of 3D perfection. Not just the fight scenes, simple but perfect composed shots of a few riders standing next to each other or a dialogue scene in the Dragon Inn were terrific to look at. It’s terrible that so few people get the chance to see this on the big screen.

    But I think even in 2D it’s a very engaging, entertaining movie with a interesting story, beautiful visuals and spectacular fights.

  10. And Vern, I can’t wait to read your thoughts about UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING.

    It was shown the next day in 3D, and while the 3D wasn’t nearly as impressive as in FLYING SWORDS it was easily the most entertaining aspect of the movie. After a great opening shot the movie completely lost me with one pointless dialogue scene after the other and one of the most boring car chases ever. (A great moment to mention the great shaky cam car chases of the Bourne movies?)

    But at least it was sort of three dimensional, so I had more fun watching the rooms in which the dialogues took place.

    In the end it didn’t help, it’s one of the few times that I walked out during the screening of a movie.

  11. “Also he has a big fight while floating inside a tornado.”

    Ah man, I needed that. Thanks for the late-day laugh Vern!

  12. Andreas, that is good to hear about the use of 3D in FSODG, but I am really disappointed to hear that US:DOR is not better. Did you like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER REGENERATION?

  13. Charles – DAY OF RECKONING is a ambitioned movie, they didn’t go the easy way. Also there are some good shots in this movie and I’ve heard from great filmed final fights.

    But during the first hour I just didn’t care about anything or anyone in the movie. The movie takes itself very, very serious while I think that’s impossible with all the laughable storytelling and dialogue. The people around me startet to giggle when another badly acted scene of exposition arrived just after the one before ended.

    Sadly I wasn’t able to switch in the »so bad it’s good« mode. I liked REGENERATION and had higher hopes for this movie as some others I’ve talked to after the screening.

    I haven’t seen the complete movie and therefore can’t say anything about the quality of the rest of the movie. Maybe I will rent it someday and watch just the missing minutes.

  14. this reminds me that I need to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon again, it’s been a long time

  15. Andreas, by the look of the trailer I could tell Hyams was going for something outside of the box. I will keep my fingers crossed in hopes that the film’s climax helps make the film more watchable then you described.

  16. The Original... Paul

    September 9th, 2012 at 2:30 am

    Well while not even Vern could convince me to see this one in 3D (I won’t rehash my arguments, I’ve seen short movies in 3D and can’t imagine anything worse than that extended to two hours) I’d love to see it in 2D somewhere. Trouble is, I don’t think there’s anywhere even in Wales that would be likely to show it. So I think I’m probably gonna have to wait for this to hit DVD sometime. That’s just depressing. This is one of those films that you HAVE to see at the cinema.

    The last martial arts movie I saw at the arts cinema was “thirteen assassins”. I don’t even think they’ve played any other martial arts movies there since. And we don’t have an “action cinema” or something dedicated to the art, like some places do. I’d probably have to go to London to find one.

    And that’s disappointing news about “Day of Reckoning”. I absolutely agreed with Vern on “Regeneration”, I thought it was fantastic; so to see hear that this one doesn’t come close to living up to it, is even more depressing.

  17. what happened to my gravatar? Nick Nolte has gone missing

  18. oh nevermind, it’s back

  19. The bandana in our face was my favorite too, and one 3D effect I actually noticed. The subtitles were a problem because of the distance from the foreground. Other foreign 3D movies did it way better, including Sex and Zen 3D.

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