Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D (2011) is proof once more, that Hark is a true revisionist of Hong Kong genre cinema. Following closely from his last and equally impressive film Detective Dee (2010), Hark breathes much needed new life into the modern Wuxia film, which has so often sagged under the weight of portentous historical posturing. Flying Swords offers the familiar setting of Ming Dynasty China, complete with feuding government officials and their incumbent power struggles, a seemingly heavy-going subject matter. However, Hark’s latest casts aside such baggage, and allows the film to take flight with dazzling action set pieces, cut to a trademark hyper-kinetic rhythm.
A throwback to the glory days of late early nineties Hong Kong cinema, the film is an adaptation of a previous Hark produced effort New Dragon Gate Inn (1992), Hark’s favourite leading man Jet Li defies both his age and the tarnish of a series of recent weak roles. As underground fighter Zhou Huai’an, Li’s spirited performance recalls his iconic performance as Wong Fei-hung in Harks’ landmark Once Upon a Time in China film cycle. The nostalgic feel extends to the action itself, the contemporary shift towards an authentic full contact brutality in martial arts film (2011’s The Raid being a prime example) is substituted with the flowing grace and beauty of ‘wire-fu’.
The sword based martial arts is quite literally flying, and no-one films in this style better than Tsui Hark as characters soar across the screen in outlandish fashion; always in a beautifully framed composition. Never monotonous, never dull, the action and narrative bounce along with pace and efficiency, and this is without the consideration of 3D. Hark spent considerable time and effort familiarising himself with 3D cameras and techniques prior to production of Flying Swords, and the fruits of his intensive labour are more than apparent on the screen.
The man who brought Hollywood special effects techniques to Hong Kong cinema in Zu Warriors (1982), once again demonstrates his command of new visual technologies with his latest endeavour. The 3D is impressively immersive as Hark milks his extra dimension for all its worth, with a careful use of depth of field which opens up space, to the obligatory flying sword thrust out of the screen. An exciting and breathless film, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D is a shameless retro-throwback and a welcome relief from the brutal bone breaking martial arts that are currently the fashion.
Spencer Murphy (CUEAFS)