Review: Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

For the laowai who likes movies, there are certainly a number of offerings available this month to tempt you out to the movie theater instead of staying at home and watching pirated DVDs. While Nicki has just reviewed the “Flowers of War” with its serious historical plot line involving things few of us really want to think about, I’d like to take this time to talk about pure fluff.

My parents are visiting from the US and we celebrated Christmas in traditional Jewish fashion — Chinese food at a restaurant followed by going out to a movie.

I like to play movie roulette. Walk into the theater and buy a ticket for the next show. I hate buying tickets in advance. It seems to me whenever you buy tickets in advance and are enjoying your meal, you have to rush to leave. Perhaps the situation in larger cities like Beijing or Shanghai is different from Haikou (or Baltimore for that matter) but there are always enough empty seats 20 minutes before the show that I and my other similarly inclined friends manage to get seats together.

In the preview I saw for it when I went to see Transformers in 3D, “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate” had English subtitles. Whether or not this was limited just to the previews is a mystery as the copy we saw was all in Chinese. Even so, had I not been inclined to translate for Mom and Dad, it would have been fine as 3D martial arts films don’t really need dialogue to make sense.

In fact, less dialogue helped. I think in playing Mystery Science Theater 3000 with each other during the film, they got more out of it than I did as I was trying to follow the random poetry, classical allusions, and formal language. It’s been a long long time since a film made me feel like a first year language student instead of a translator. When they did speak normal speech it didn’t much move the plot along in understandable directions and the logic behind the black sandstorm, buried city of gold, or why the poor thief was a double for the evil prince remains a mystery. There was also a hero, a lost love of the hero’s who was pretending to be him while riding around the countryside righting wrongs, an apparently pregnant assassin pretending to be a runaway concubine, and a guest house in the desert where the former owners were rumored to have engaged in cannibalism.

Gosh! How did I forget to mention the underground caverns, city of ships, or super thin razorwire that took the place of laserbeams from a scifi, spy, or bank robbery film?

If that weren’t confusing enough the non-Chinese characters (generic barbarians speaking another language and displaying a confusing mash-up of minority characteristics in terrain that didn’t match their apparent ethnicity) started out using translators but switched to not needing them halfway through the film. They also had access to magical poisons.

But 3D knives flew at your head with sufficient regularity to make up for the convoluted plot, and the cinematography was gorgeous.

Well worth watching. Go with friends. Don’t try to figure out what’s being said. You’ll have much more fun that way.


And on YouTube.