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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
'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.
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.