Jet Li makes a welcome return to the wuxia pian genre with this exciting reboot of the King Hu classic DRAGON GATE INN, directed by the man who produced the 1992 remake of that very film, Tsui Hark.
Li pays Zhao Huai’an, a heroic swordsman who has grown tired of the imperial court of the Ming Dynasty. The Emperor’s eunuchs have abused their power and have set up two factions, the East and West Bureaus. After Zhao and his two allies have dispatched of Eunuch Wan (Gordon Liu, in an excellent cameo), the East Bureau is all but destroyed.
West Bureau commander Eunuch Yu (Chen Kun) decides that he may be the only one to wipe out Zhao and his men in order to keep having the powers of the government. In addition, he is tracking down Su Huirong (Mavis Fan), a concubine impregnated by the Emperor who has escaped execution. When Zhao learns of an imposter rescuing the young Su from some of Yu’s men, he decides to follow them.
Eventually, everyone ends up at the Dragon Gate, once home to a legendary city with a treasure. In addition and Zhao and his men as well as Su and the impostor, some of Yu’s army and a band of Tartan warriors led by Burudu (Kwan Lun-Mei), as well as heroic swordswoman Gu Shantong (Li Yuchun) are at the Dragon Gate Inn. When it is discovered that the young Wind Blade (Chen Kun) is a ringer for Eunuch Yu, some of the newcomers decide to have Wind Blade pose as Yu to trap the West Bureau.
It is revealed that the impostor Zhao is a woman, Ling Yanqiu (Zhou Xun), who three years ago escaped the government in an attempt to find the real Zhao, whom she has fallen in love. Meanwhile, a dangerous sandstorm is about to hit the Dragon Gate and when Yu’s army find the storm as the time to invade, alliances are formed and dark secrets are revealed in what will ultimately be the fate of the Ming Dynasty.
Yes, Jet Li went back on his promise of making any martial arts films after his decree in 2006, after the making of FEARLESS. However, he makes a terrific return to the wuxia pian genre and reunites with Tsui Hark for this exciting action drama that is a reboot of King Hu’s classic film DRAGON GATE INN. In 1993, Tsui Hark remade the film as DRAGON INN with Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, and Donnie Yen as the evil eunuch.
Li is great as the swordsman Zhao, who has grown tired of the eunuchs’ abuse of power and feels he and his cohorts are the only ones to can put an end to the madness. He is joined by quite a supporting cast, led by Zhou Xun, who plays the mysterious swordswoman who pretends to be the man she loves. Surprisingly, her role is reminiscent of Brigitte Lin’s role in the 90’s version. Chen Kun does double duty, playing both the evil eunuch Yu and a young warrior known as Wind Blade who poses as the eunuch to trick the villains.
There are a bunch of numerous subplots that somehow smoothly combine together. They range from the protection of a pregnant concubine, played by actress/singer Mavis Fan, to the Tartar warriors going to Dragon Inn to retrieve the treasure buried in the underground palace. Somehow, Tsui is able to bring all these subplots together well and reveal everything in the third act, which makes up the final forty-five minutes of the two-hour film.
As with the wuxia pian genre, there is lots of flying and swordplay. The stunt team of Yuen Bun, Allen Lan, and Sun Jiankui bring some impressive action, from the opening battle where Li has a rematch with the legendary Gordon Liu (their last on-screen fight was in 1993’s LAST HERO IN CHINA) to the blistering finale where everything is revealed and a top alliance is formed to take out the evil eunuch. There are some 3D effects in the film and while they don’t make quite a big impact in the film, they are a little impressive considering what is being worked with here.
In conclusion, FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE is a welcome return for Jet Li to the wuxia pian genre. Tsui Hark succeeds in reboot his own remake of a classic with an impressive storyline filled with some subplots that mesh well as some exciting action courtesy of Li and cast.