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.


  1. _______________________


    Sorry if I ruin this for anyone.

    I watched it yesterday and was also deceived by the lack of subtitles as my Chinese is fairly shocking. I was keeping up quite well for the first two thirds or so of the film but completely lost it in the final section. Could someone explain to me what was actually happening. Where did the concubine’s baby go? I was so proud of understanding that she was pregnant I was disappointed when she seemed to change her mind. Also why did she suddenly become a baddie? Was she evil all along? Wouldn’t that make most of the film pointless?

    Other than that, I thought the film was good fun. I did particularly like the generic drunkenly sexually charged female barbarian.

    P.S. Turning up to the cinema to buy tickets 10 minutes before a random film starts seems to work fine in Shaoxing too.

    • ~~~~~~~~*BIG SPOILER ALERT*~~~~~
      Please do not continue reading if you don’t want the movie spoiled for you, but I’m clarifying the story for Alun. You have been warned.

      The concubine was the secret agent of the head empress/mistress to infiltrate the rebellion group and find the Jet Li’s character. She was never pregnant it was on a ploy to get close enough to assassinate Jet Li’s character. It makes sense when all this time she’s been dropping that purse/bag thing constantly, thinking she was either very careless or very stupid, turns out it was on purpose.

  2. According to Wikipedia, it is a remake of New Dragon Gate Inn (新龙门客栈), and Dragon Gate Inn (龙门客栈) before. Maybe a knowledge of these movies is expected from the viewers ? If you have seen them, did it help to understand the plot of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate ?

  3. This is sure to make its way to my TV screen eventually. I’ve watched a lot of wuxi movies, most with fantastic subtitles, and they rarely make much sense. I think it’s part poor story-telling and part historical story mining. You take bits and pieces of ancient legends, mix them into a plot someone can understand on crappy headphones in a netbar — it’s bound to make little sense.

    • If you haven’t already watched it and you want to have a joint viewing party, we are up for coming over sometime. We can bring popcorn again…we’ll just be sure to pop it first this time 🙂

  4. Pingback: Hao Hao Report


    @Alun, I just saw it today, and at first I thought I didn’t understand the plot due to language problems, despite my Chinese level is usually acceptable. It appears now that I got nearly everything right (the dead ringer part was especially hard!!) but the different elements are just not supposed to make too much sense! I’m was also wondering why the poor pregnant concubine was finally evil, could it be a trap from the beginning to have jet li and his friend killed?? twisted… anyway I had lot of fun too so I guess it doesnt matter.

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