The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is the first Chinese film made in IMAX 3D. Borrowing experts from James Cameron’s Avatar to learn the technique, this action packed martial arts film was a tremendous hit in China becoming the 12th highest grossing film of all time in that country. As an IMAX title, it has the distinction of being the 4th largest grossing IMAX film and now this highly lauded feature is coming to the United States.
The film opens with the viewer soaring over a busy harbor in the time of the Ming Dynasty. In the IMAX format, I had the sensation of being a bird or a hang-glider as we swooped over the boats and surveyed the myriad ships under different stages of construction. I tried to think back to a comparable experience in my life and the only thing that came close was flying in a glider. I was really enjoying the lush, intricate scenery and then the subtitles started.
I cannot talk about this film without discussing the technology involved. The two are intertwined. I am not new to subtitles, my first foreign film was Yojimbo way back in the eighties. But seeing subtitles in IMAX 3D is a very overwhelming experience. Imagine watching a scene through a window pane wearing glasses. It was like the subtitles were being written across my lenses while the actors were being projected on the window’s glass. Meanwhile the background scenery was through the window just beyond. My eyes were constantly adapting to the various focal lengths scrambling to glean as much information as I could. I regretted that the film wasn’t in my language and I longed for the days when they used to dub martial arts films. Even when it was done badly, at least it allowed you the luxury to relax and focus on all the action.
The costumes and scenery were tremendous, but I couldn’t enjoy them because I was too busy reading. For a time I thought about not reading the subtitles at all, but there were so many characters that I needed the information to follow along. It was difficult watching the actor’s expressions because there was a lot of dialogue in the film. I was really working hard just to keep up.
Now that I’m done carping about the subtitles let me refocus on the story. The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is full of intrigue and is as complicated as a Shakespearean drama. We have women masquerading as men, look-alikes being mistaken for each other, and plenty of treachery and political greed. Our characters include eunuchs, fugitives, concubines, palace officials, Tartan warriors as well as assassins, rebels and thieves. There were so many characters that I was forced to read the subtitles just to keep everyone straight.
The culmination of the story takes place in a remote desert location where the ruins of an inn remain. It is said that a fierce black storm will soon arrive, as it does every sixty years. Beneath the sands lies a golden palace with untold riches that was buried by a previous sandstorm in ancient times. Fortune hunters of all kinds have arrived at this fabled spot in hopes of unearthing the legendary treasure.
The story, no matter how intricate or complex, is still just an excuse for very cool fights and this film has them aplenty. Jet Li has the opportunity to show off his advanced sword skills and there are all kinds of displays of various knife-throwing techniques. Personally, I am not a fan of wire work, I prefer my martial arts less super-human, but you’ll see warriors flying everywhere. I was particularly fascinated by the director’s use of hands. He often gave them close-ups and the way that they were displayed told you everything about the warrior.
I wish I could give you more details, but to be honest while reading subtitles I missed a lot. Tsui Hark, as a director, is new to me and Jet Li is the only actor I was familiar with. As the film ended the general consensus was that it was too long. But at 121 minutes I think it just felt that way. I, myself, was worn out with all that reading and my neck was stiff from holding my head still. I found that if I moved or tilted my head the words would become blurred and I couldn’t read them. This film may have been wildly popular in China, but then they didn’t have to read the subtitles. I just hope that our younger generation is more talented at watching 3D than I am because they grew up with it. For me, it is still just a novelty and I prefer my films in two dimensions.
Rating: First Run Only available in IMAX 3D
- Melanie Wilson
- My Reviewer's Philosophy: I believe that every film has its audience. One man’s Citizen Kane is another man’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre. My purpose is to help you spend your entertainment dollars wisely. A bad review never kept me from going to a film I wanted to see, but a good review will sometimes get me to a film I never considered. As a movie lover I want you to go to the movies. When more people go to the movies, the more movies get made. But, I also believe that if you enjoy the films you see, you naturally will be inclined to go more often. So join me in supporting our film industry by going to a movie today. Hopefully I can steer you towards a good one. See you at the movies. Melanie Wilson