Dir: Wilson Yip. HK. 2006.94mins.
Adapted from a popular comic book, Dragon Tiger Gate is a slick butsuperficial martial arts adventure that boasts tremendous fight sequences(choreographed by co-star and co-producer Donnie Yen), colourful productiondesign and appealing central performances that cannot mask the flimsy andderivative storytelling.
The film has already openedrobustly in Asia but it may be tricky for it to get much traction beyond Asiain the English-speaking theatrical marketplace, although it may find a sizeableaudience on DVD. Genre fans, especially younger viewers, will warm to itsenergetic set-pieces, whatever reservations they might have about thethreadbare characterisation and plotting. But this is not going to play on the scaleof kinetic martial arts masterpieces like CrouchingTiger, Hidden Dragon or the best John Woo films from the 1980s.
Director Wilson Yip and Yenwon plaudits for their previous collaboration Saat Po Long (SPL), but here reactionbeyond Asia is unlikely to be anything close to its levels of criticalapproval.
The film's opening includesa montage of images from the source material, the comic-book Dragon And TigerHeroes, by Wong Yuk-Long, which feels altogether darker and more noirish than what follows.
Dragon Tiger Gate, it emerges, is a martial arts school which, an opening voice-over explains,was set up by two kung fu masters who taught street urchins to fight and battleoppression.
The story follows Tiger(Nicholas Tse) and Dragon (Donnie Yen) , the latter of who has left the sanctuary of theinstitution to work as a bodyguard for a Triad boss.
Problems begin when floppyhaired Tiger stumbles into a brawl between rival gangsters over a sacred amulet,the Lousha Death Plaque. The relic is being presentedto mobster boss Kun to give him symbolic control over all smuggling gigs in thecity - so long as he doesn't fall out with overlord Shibumi.
Dragon saves Tiger and theduo soon realise that they are brothers. This cues up some very mawkishflashbacks (muted colour, syrupy music) to when they were two little boys,before lurching into family melodrama that is incongruous and far fromconvincing.
The plotting then becomesever more embroiled. Tiger is in love with Kun'sdemur young daughter, Xiaoling (JieDong). Meanwhile femme fatale Rosa, who works for Shibuni,has a crush on Dragon dating back to an incident in their childhood, when hesaved her life. The third hero is Turbo Shek (Shawn Yue), who has a shock of blond hair and, like Tiger, iscommitted to combating evil.
Although Dragon Tiger Gate's narrative is somewhatopaque, the fight sequences have plenty of oomph. Yen's choreography combinesspecial effects (slow motion, elaborate wire work) with plenty of old-fashionedphysicality. There are one or two tremendous set-pieces, for example, the scenewhen Kun is killed on a floodlit, rain-swept baseball field is orchestratedwith considerable flair.
There is also a verystriking, dream-like sequence in which Xialoing hasto catch thousands of prayer beads as they bounce down a staircase in order tosave the lives of her beloved young heroes. The final showdown, too, is stagedin baroque and impressive fashion, as the masked Shibumi(who seems to have supernatural powers) takes on all three young heroes and thecamerawork goes into over-drive.
But despite all theself-conscious sequences in which the protagonists mull over the past, the film-makersstruggle to make anything more of their characters than simple archetypes, and theeye-popping design and sleek cinematography are ultimately wasted on a filmthat lacks all the necessary gravitas and subtlety.
For shame that not enoughtime was devoted to the plotting and storyline as the effective mise en scene and fight sequences for Dragon Tiger Gate to have any emotional resonance.
Beijing PolyBona Film Distribution Co
Shanghai Film Group Corp
Mandarin Film Distribution
Hong Kong distribution
Mandarin Films Distribution Co
Wong, Li Nan
Yuk Long Wong
Ko Chiu Lam
Lam Che Kiu
Co Co Chan