Lately — and all too quietly — the Indomina label has been releasing some excellent packages of Asian action films I’m afraid otherwise would go unseen by North American audiences: True Legend, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame and now, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.
Apparently a sequel and/or semi-remake of 1992’s New Dragon Gate Inn (this matters not), Flying Swords takes place in the Ming Dynasty, when pregnant women are executed and government officials don’t trust one another. OK, so maybe that latter bit is nothing unusual, but power-mad eunuchs purposely have split up their governing body into an east and west bureau. All you really need to know is that virtually every member is woefully corrupt, and Zhao Gwai On (Jet Li, The Expendables 2) leads a bamboo-hatted band of vigilante sword-slingers who right the wrongs in hopes of restoring order, starting with a literal cannibal.
This is the setup for the film’s true reason for being: many epic fights. The high-energy skirmishes involve not only the titular flying swords, but also flying arrows, flying feet and flying knives that twirl around each others’ hooks to spin into unpredictable directions — all the better to pierce your flesh with.
You also get a bird attack, a bad guy with a Bane mask, a sandstorm, a battle within said sandstorm, and ultimately, the climactic search for gold treasure inside a booby-trapped maze. All of this is comin’ at ya in 3-D, provided your home entertainment unit allows for such. To be honest, it’s not necessary; director Tsui Hark has staged the madness in such a bold and brazen manner that you get the effect even flat.
In other words, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is not subtle about anything. It gleefully plays in a comic-book sandbox, employing all the gravity-defying wire-fu effects Hark helped usher in with such crossover hits as the terrific Once Upon a Time in China trilogy with Li. If you love Hark’s style, I recommend this return to form — a form that is too long and not always efficiently scripted, but still a lot of fun. —Rod Lott