Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

Posted August 31, 2012 by in


Total Score

2/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: martial arts
Director: Hark Tsui
MPAA Rating: "R" (Flying Swords is a soft "R" and that it didn't get a PG-13 is puzzling).
Actors: Jet Li, Xun Zhou, Kun Chen, Lunmei Kwai, Yuchun Li, Mavis Fan, Siu-Wong Fan, Chia Hui Liu, Chien Sheng
Length: 121 minutes
Release Date: 8/31/2012
Studio: Film Workshop, China Film Group, Beijing Poly-bona Film Publishing Company, Shanda Pictures, Bona International Film Group, Beijing Liangzi Group, Shineshow

What We Liked:

imaginative ideas

What We Disliked:

bad use of 3D, poor CGI, uninvolving narrative
What We Thought

A case study in overpriced cinema.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article

Among common reasons given for the decline at the box office is that going to the theater is getting more expensive, and movies are not cost effective entertainment.  Take Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.  AMC is playing this in IMAX 3D.  Note that this is digital IMAX, not the IMAX we grew up with.  An evening showing of Flying Swords runs $15.00 for a 121 minute experience.

What you’re getting for your money is a dialog heavy second act, cheap looking special effects, and misused 3D.  It does have some imaginative ideas, like a sword fight that takes place inside of a tornado, with the two warriors linked together by a chain.  That the warriors seem to have mystical powers gives the film a certain fun-factor.  But the fun quickly wears off.

I’m not against 3D when it is well-used, but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.  A martial arts movie is potentially well suited to the format, as it emphasises bodies moving in space, but that isn’t the case with Flying Swords.  I would certainly be in the wrong business if I had a problem with subtitled films, and Flying Swords is that.  But we have to take our eyes off the center of the frame every time someone opens their mouth, and we spend more time looking at flat text than looking at 3D images.  The fact is, you don’t need 3D to read subtitles, where the draw of film is visuals, not dialog.

It’s tempting to say that Flying Swords might have worked better with an English dub, but that doesn’t solve the problem that the film spends too much time on talking heads in close-up for a 3D film.  3D needs to be wide, and stay wide to emphasize depth–the point of 3D.  Watch Avatar–there’s only three close-ups in the entire movie, and they’re brief.  Even the fights scenes in Flying Swords punch in too close to feet and hands, eliminating background, depth.

When the characters finally clam up and we can stop reading and start watching, the film is visually uneven.  There’s substantial motion blur, made terribly noticeable by use of slow motion.  The characters are often replaced by obvious computer generated images to create impossible stunts.  Flying Swords has the look of TekkenVirtua Fighter, and other fighter games of yore.  The CGI stand-ins move in unnatural, jerky motions, and hold and interact with CGI props that are especially fake-looking, including flying lumber, a wooden box that seems to form magically around a man’s head for some reason, and a fake sword that breaks into sharp pieces to attack foes, and then magically reassembles.  To summarize, there are fake characters holding fake props in fake backgrounds.

Flying Swords has a handful of effective shots, but it also has a tendency to use a compositional strategy where walls dominate the frame, pushing characters onto the far edge.  There’s a couple of freeze-frames on kung-fu moves that further rob the characters of dimensionality.  Either the characters need to move, or the camera needs to move around them, so we can see the front, sides, top and bottom of them, and examine the characters as three dimensional objects with sides, angles, and facets.

Storywise, Flying Swords is overplotted and meandering.  Disparate groups end up at a cliched inn, awaiting a storm to sweep away the sand and reveal a golden city.  There’s an evil official, a good-guy look-alike and the woman who accompanies him, a legendary fighter (Jet Li), a female warrior who impersonates him, and a pregnant former maid of the palace.  A group of Tartars and various guests, bodyguards, and servants at the inn round out the cast.  Several of them have backstories that are revealed along the way.  These are characters working out the past instead of living in the present world of the film.

Jet Li gets top billing, but is in the film only slightly longer than he is in The Expendables 2.  He’s in the opening action scene, and then disappears for the second act, while other actors handle the dull plot stuff.  He then reappears in the third act when the action takes over (in all of its video game glory), but by then there’s no investment in anyone or anything.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate isn’t worth premium ticket prices, or bargain prices for that matter, because it’s so poorly executed that it isn’t worth the time.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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