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Originally published Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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'Flying Swords of Dragon Gate': China's first IMAX 3D spectacle

A movie review of "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate," Tsui Hark's lavish and frequently dazzling martial-arts epic, China's first IMAX 3D extravaganza. Jet Li is top-billed as a renegade freedom fighter in Ming Dynasty China.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Flying Swords of Dragon Gate,' with Jet Li, Zhou Xun, Chen Kun, Li Yuchun, Gwei Lun Mei, Mavis Fan. Written and directed by Tsui Hark. 121 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains martial-arts violence, intense action). In Mandarin, with English subtitles. IMAX at the Pacific Science Center, Southcenter 16.

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Tsui Hark's ambitious "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" spares no expense to earn its hype as China's first IMAX 3D production. A box-office record-breaker when it was released in China last December, it's now being showcased in about 15 IMAX cinemas across North America. Count Seattle among the lucky; IMAX 3D turns a slightly above-average "wuxia" ("martial hero" action thriller) into an epic extravaganza.

It's also got a top-notch pedigree as a reworking of director King Hu's 1966 wuxia classic "Dragon Gate Inn" and the Tsui- produced 1992 remake "New Dragon Gate Inn." With a lineage like that, it's a must-see for fans of the swordplay genre.

Combining spectacular wirework stunts and judicious use of all-digital characters to enhance the illusion of martial-arts superpowers, Tsui delivers a knockout opening in which a Ming Dynasty freedom fighter named Zhou (Jet Li, woefully underused) rescues alleged traitors being held for execution by the corrupted eunuchs in power.

With oppression and imprisonment as a running theme, numerous set pieces follow as the plot juggles a growing roster of thinly developed characters. The action converges at the titular desert Inn, built upon a legendary city of treasure that is revealed by a sandstorm once every 60 years.

Thus the stage is set for a clash of martial-arts titans, not quite on par with such recent classics as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Hero," but definitely worthy of IMAX 3D's bigger bang for your buck.

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