DRAGON TIGER GATE is the 2nd collaboration of the Wilson Yip-Donnie Yen tag team (The 3rd being "Flashpoint" in 2007). After the huge success of SPL (aka. "Killzone", 2005), they reunite in 2006 to adapt the comic book (manga) "Dragon Gate Heroes". I haven't read the comic so I can only comment on the film based on how it was made and its entertainment value.
Tiger Wong (Nicholas Tse) unwittingly takes Lousha Death Plaque, a token decreed by the leader of the Lousha Gate, Shibumi, hence is ambushed by triad gangs. As fate has it, Dragon Wong (Donnie Yen), a bodyguard works for a triad boss, saves Tiger and discovers that Tiger is his brother. A wandering young man, Turbo Shek (Shawn Yue), who plays with nunchakus, meanwhile, befriends the brothers in the fierce fight. In the super power showdown and endless killings in the Jiang Hu, only these three back street boys can fight for justice in the community.
Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen once again proves that they have the savvy when it comes to shooting fight scenes. Sure, wires, CGI and even trampolines were used, but the fight sequences are nicely shot with the near-excellent CGI-enhanced set designs and superb camera positioning that takes you right in the action. The film is adapted from a comic, so expect the usual righteous concepts, hard-hitting stylized martial arts with a touch of mysticism and very "cool" posturing (from Donnie Yen, mostly). There are plenty of extended action sequences; highlights include a very nicely shot fight scene in a Japanese restaurant where goons get tossed towards the camera. Sure, choreography is a bit exaggerated and is a step backward from the intense fights of SPL; it is based on a comic book so expect reality to take a back seat. There is a lot of power-to-pose with Donnie Yen wailing his arms, with wind blowing his hair to look "cool". Donnie is being "Donnie" with his coolness (I suppose). The lasting impression is how "COOL" Dragon looks, what can we say, the actor likes to look good.
The main weakness of the screenplay I suppose is that when there are no fights, it stops to a crawl. There are a lot of characters in the film, but the real interesting ones seemed to have gone unnoticed. Renowned actor Yuen Wah plays Wong Jianglong, the master of the "Dragon Gates" seemed to be underused; his encounter with Shibumi seemed a bit rushed and lacked emotional impact. There was a great opportunity to expand with a "sensei-student" subplot with Turbo's (Shawn Yue) cocky and pretentious character, when they agreed to spar and if Turbo proves his worth, Wong would teach him. Wong effortlessly humbled him with a slipper, that brought the young man‘s spirits down. It was a real lesson in humility. Tiger and Turbo's beginning friendship should have been developed more also since their playful sparring gave some depth to their characters.
Rosa (Beautiful Li Xiao-ran) and Ma Xiaoling (Dong Gie) serve as lovely eye-candy as well as love interests for Dragon and Tiger respectively. The tragic love story between Rosa and Dragon are a nice touch, it was a good exposition of tragic love doomed to fail. Ma Xiaoling's character is one full of compassion as her efforts to convince a master to heal Tiger's wounds express a lot of desperation and hopelessness that brighten the film's premise. The two female characters are the representations of commitment, sacrifice and courage.
The final fight may be visually nice and entertaining, but the masked villain Shibumi seemed underwhelming. Sure, he can knock around wooden pillars and oversized punching bags, but the actor was a bit unconvincing with his stiff moves. I'm sure the director had to rely on camera trickery and heavy editing with his fight sequences. Also, the storyline with Shibumi just wasn't very immersive or interesting; I guess he wasn't "bad" enough. There was little doubt that the bad guy would lose, and the stakes were a little too hollow. The over-reaching plot and the usual canned emotion hamper the film's pace. Flashbacks may explain a lot but it feels too perfunctory; I suppose the motivation behind "Dragon Tiger Gate" is to deliver visually stunning fight sequences and on this note it does succeed.
Unfortunately, I cannot judge whether this film adaptation is faithful to its roots. I'm pretty sure that "Dragon Tiger Gate" will find an international audience, even those unfamiliar with the comic book. The film may be far from perfect, and admittedly the plot is a little mediocre. Thankfully, the CGI-enhanced martial arts did do a BETTER job than most Hollywood releases that the film does deliver on the hard-hitting fight sequences. The Wilson Yip/Donnie Yen team once again proves that martial arts action is what they do best and they don't miss a beat. Despite the occasional Donnie Yen screen vanity and the occasional overlong drama between fights, the film does deliver a LOT of powerful kicks and punches complete with bone-crushing impact! At least, the film knew its intended audience and delivers what their followers want.
RECOMMENDED! For action/martial arts junkies…[3 ½ out of 5 stars]
I own the 2-disc Hong Kong release from Deltamac. The U.S. release has been released by Tai Seng.
VIDEO/AUDIO: 2.35 Anamorphic Widescreen. Exceptional transfer from Deltamac; Sharp, crisp and clean with radiant colors and solid black levels. 5.1 Dolby/DTS-ES Cantonese track with English subs are very good. If you're equipped, utilize the DTS track, it is the way to go!
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