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Dragon Tiger Gate

The denizens of Dragon Tiger Gate.

Year: 2006  
Director: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun
Producer: Nansun Shi, Raymond Wong Bak-Ming, Donnie Yen Ji-Dan, Yu Dong
Action: Donnie Yen Ji-Dan
Cast: Donnie Yen Ji-Dan, Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung, Shawn Yue, Dong Jie, Li Xiao-Ran, Yuen Wah, Chen Kuan-Tai, Sheren Teng Shui-Man, Tommy Yuen Man-On, Sam Chan Yu-Sum, Tony Wong Luk-Wong, Xing Yu, Louis Koo Tin-Lok (voice only), Ella Koon Yun-Na (voice only), Isabella Leong (voice only)
The Skinny: Entertaining if overproduced action is the highlight of this otherwise routine comic book adaptation. If you can get past the silly stuff and wait out the mind-numbing exposition, then you should be fine. However, given the filmmaker pedigree - specifically a little movie called SPL - Dragon Tiger Gate only disappoints.
by Kozo:

     If there is one Hong Kong movie people are looking to this year, it's probably this one: Dragon Tiger Gate. Based on the long-running comic book from creator Tony Wong Luk-Wong, Dragon Tiger Gate has elements that propel it beyond your average local production into something designed to induce Pavlovian responses from action-starved international audiences. Dragon Tiger Gate has it all: copious martial arts, hot young idols, righteous posturing, noble comic book concepts, and above all, Donnie Yen. At its best, Dragon Tiger Gate is an energetic action fix, and Yen is the man who makes it happen. But at its worst, Dragon Tiger Gate is uninteresting and embarrassing - and Yen gets plenty of blame. He's not the only one at fault, but given his omnipresent status as co-producer, action director and star, Yen is the one who gets called out first. Expectations after SPL are sky high, and anything less would disappoint. But that's just what Dragon Tiger Gate does.
     Donnie Yen is Dragon, a twentysomething (!) year-old martial arts stud who used to belong to Dragon Tiger Gate, the most righteous of the local martial arts organizations. Dragon left the Gate years ago with his mother (Sheren Teng in a cameo), leaving behind younger brother Tiger (Nicholas Tse). Years later, the two brothers cross paths at a floating restaurant, where Tiger senses an opportunity to utilize his high-kicking martial arts skills to defend a hapless family from some bullying thugs. Tiger proceeds to whip major ass, annoying the goons of crimelord Ma Kwun (Shaw Brothers legend Chen Kuan-Tai). But Dragon shows up, fists flying and locks of hair blowing in the manufactured wind. The two tussle briefly before Ma Kwun lets Tiger go. The lesson: even crimelords don't want brothers to fight.
     However, the two soon cross paths again. Tiger's friends pick up the "Lousha Plaque" from the scene of the brawl, and Ma Kwun wants it back. The Plaque is a heavy gold badge representing face, or some sort of Jiang Hu concept better understood by people versed in Dragon Tiger Gate's comic book lore. Dragon comes after Tiger and his friends in a Japanese restaurant brawl (that's two restaurant fights in less than 20 minutes), but proceeds to take out his own men when some of Ma Kwun's more dastardly minions show up bearing swords. The fight attracts the attention of Turbo Shek (Shawn Yue wearing a silver fright wig), who uses nunchakus and enters the fray because he doesn't like it when people disturb his dinner. Cue plenty of injured people and nifty slow-motion martial arts excess, punctuated by close-up glamour shots of Donnie Yen's mug as the wind rustles his silky head of hair. Much of the wind is presumably caused by the resulting air displacement of Dragon's punches, but we all know how it's being caused: some guy with a nozzle blowing air into Donnie Yen's face. Ladies and gentlemen: movie magic.
     But hey, it all entertains - even with an abnormally high level of photogenic fakery. Unlike the gritty bodyslams of SPL, Dragon Tiger Gate goes for a mixture of choreographed roughhousing and obviously prettified bedlam. The artifice of Dragon Tiger Gate can plainly be seen in every aspect of its production, from casting (Donnie Yen as a man in his twenties?), to the CG-enhanced cityscapes, to the incredibly pretty way the martial arts are presented. Action director Yen gets the most out of the film's non martial artists (Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue), and director Wilson Yip stages many of the sequences with effective, if not too showy camerawork. But Yip's camera is upstaged heavily by Yen's action, which uses lots of movement to little more effect than pretty posing. Dragon spends a lot of time flailing his arms and barely connecting, the effect being that everything looks more cool than it probably really is. The fighting is a step below SPL's bone-crunching action as it lacks a consistent sense of power, but this is a comic book adaptation, so pretty panels are practically a necessity. And at least the power-to-posing ratio is greater than in The Storm Riders.
     However, Storm Riders had a storyline that actually seemed to matter, while Dragon Tiger Gate just has obligatory story points. The film's first scene is a cutesy first meeting between Tiger and Ma Kwun's daughter Ma Xiaoling (Mainland actress Dong Jie), but luckily the film hits overdrive quickly with the floating restaurant brawl and subsequent Japanese restaurant melee. After that, Dragon Tiger Gate stalls heavily, relying on too many shots of characters staring soulfully into the sky contemplating their pasts - which almost always get illustrated by a somber flashback detailing why people are so depressed in the present. The flashbacks do explain matters, but the exposition is mostly verbal and the emotion largely canned. It's as if someone opened up a cliché dictionary and cut and paste whole sections into the script. Logically, this shouldn't be a huge complaint because the Dragon Tiger Gate comic books laid the groundwork, and they're only following the material, right? But nothing about the storyline feels organic. Backstory gets filled in with routine efficiency, and the overarching plotline - involving Shibumi, evil leader of the Lousha Gate - never feels that involving. After a while, it seems the main point of Dragon Tiger Gate is simply having the audience wait for the fight sequences.
      Wilson Yip's best works have had a keen wit and understanding of character beneath their genre trappings, but that quality is lost in Dragon Tiger Gate. For one thing, the characters are more types than anything else, and those who possess anything resembling wit are quickly shoved into the background. Shawn Yue's Turbo Shek should have been a more fun character; he's a wandering martial artist who wants to impress Dragon Tiger Gate master Wong Jianglong, played by Yuen Wah in the film's only other fun performance. The two have a couple of fun scenes where they spar, and Turbo resolves to train harder, but their story disappears in favor of Dragon and Tiger's estrangement, plus a tragic love story between Dragon and a Lousha Gate member named, uh, Lousha (Li Xiao-Ran). Their romance gets mucho screentime, but it's more interminable than involving. The other romance, between Ma Xiaoling and Tiger, is only marginally more interesting because the actors playing them seem to be slightly more compatible. Tse and Dong make a photogenic pair, but their cutesy interludes are upstaged by product placements for Nokia mobile phones. Both Tiger and Xiaoling own Nokias, as does Turbo Shek and probably everyone else in the world of Dragon Tiger Gate. Yay, commercialism!
     Knocking a movie for its obvious product placement is probably a tad petty, but this is a symptom of what's wrong with Dragon Tiger Gate. Nitpicking on the film is easy because as a whole, it doesn't truly involve or affect like any good movie should. The film has solid production design, effective comic book themes, and even some scenes of genuine emotion (Wong Jianglong's showdown with Shibumi packs an effective emotional punch). But in the end, the defining memory of Dragon Tiger Gate is not how exciting the action sequences were, or how interesting the story was. No, the defining impression left by Dragon Tiger Gate is how blazingly cool Donnie Yen is supposed to look, and how hard the filmmakers try to get the audience to buy in. Aside from his extreme poses, flowing hairdo, and flashy martial arts, Yen also gets to brood like a badass, cry like a smoldering romantic hero, and hug his brother with uncomfortably exaggerated passion. Even the film's final showdown is all geared towards Yen. Dragon shows up to take down Shibumi without the help of either Turbo or Tiger, and his exaggerated preening hits cinema overdrive during the finale. Perhaps a better title for the film should have been just Dragon, or maybe the Greatest Looking Martial Artist Ever and his Brother.
     Gripes aside, Dragon Tiger Gate does have your action fix, and non-fans of the comic could write off the film's canned story and emotions as some sort of slavish referencing of the original comic. Still, as an actual 95-minute film, Dragon Tiger Gate only entertains part of the time - and a bunch of that time can easily be called entertainment of the unintentional variety. That last gripe once again falls upon Donnie Yen, who has had his brushes with onscreen hubris before (Ballistic Kiss, anyone?). The man likes to look good, and even in SPL's gritty trappings, Yen struts across the screen like the Hong Kong Cinema version of U2's Bono. But to be fair, Yen is probably the only action star left in Hong Kong who understands that people out there actually like movies with plenty of kicks, punches, and moments of bonecrunching impact. We should just be glad that he's still trying to give us what other filmmakers won't anymore - and if he wants to look good (or try to look good) while doing it, that's his prerogative, right? Dragon Tiger Gate is a mixed bag, but "mixed bag" means that there's some good stuff in there. Pick that stuff out, and leave the rest. That's what I did. (Kozo 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras (Subtitled in English)

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen