I’m no fan of the 3D film. Something about having my eyes covered in any way while engaged with a medium that is at least 50% visual doesn’t sit well. Then there is the fact that film is three-dimensional already (time is a dimension) so the name is incorrect. And let’s not forget what 3D is: it’s not 3D. Its several layers of flat planes which ‘appear’ to be differing distances in relation to the viewer. All that clever compositing effects work by the filmmakers is undone by the fact that your attention is drawn right back to the fact that dinosaur-A really isn’t part of landscape-B and the whole thing is a figment of some computer’s central processor.
Having made that point, I’m going to recommend you see a martial-arts epic in the wuxia tradition called Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. In 3D.
From a vertiginous, fly-through the masts and rigging of a ship yard to an epic, and quite brilliant, fight to the death within a whirling sandstorm, the 3D process here is given a vigorous workout. FSODG is not an intelligent film, but any ounce of brain-power it had was spent solely on figuring exciting ways to use 3D to bombard the viewer with arrows, spears, fists, head and beauty.
The plot side of things goes something like this: various factions in a strife-riven China take refuge in an inn built not far from the Dragon Gate. Viscous agents of the East and West Bureaus, brave knights who spend their life on the road, tattooed barbarians and flesh-eating inn-keepers all converge as the sand-storm of a lifetime engulfs them. With the revelation that the city buried under the Dragon Gate will at last be revealed by the shifting sands and disgorge its bounty of gold for the victors, the story is given some urgency.
There are subplots of love lost, mistaken identity, Machiavellian intrigue and sexual politics, but none are developed with any of the rigidity they deserve to be. Plot points come and go, sometimes serving only to provide an occasional titter, but more often than not to segue into an extravagantly choreographed fight. Provided you are happy with unclear motivations, unlikely twists and unstable characterisation, you won’t find anything to trouble you here.
Star power is provided by Jet Li, on enthusiastic form, and acclaimed director Hark Tsui. All of the cast are fun to watch though, especially Xun Zhou as a lady knight and Kun Chen as both a supremely nasty leader and in a parallel role as a bumbling servant. Also worthy of mention are the powerful and fun special effects, wrangled by the team who worked on Avatar. The aforementioned flying battle in the heart of a whirlwind of sand is a particularly exciting moment, a sort of violent Wizard of Oz dream sequence, which thrills and surprises in equal measure. All staple wuxia elements are here, from floating heroes, knights duty bound to help the weak and the pitting of lower classes against an evil and rich elite.
FSODG is great, nonsensical fun. A rip-roaring flight of fantasy that plays fast and loose with physics, history and logic, and never fails to deliver on its promise of spectacle, action and adventure. And as a showcase for 3D, it fulfils its purpose by throwing everything at the screen, including a rather ornate, gold kitchen sink. A perfect metaphor for the fact that stereoscopy can’t help your story but only provides the shallow thrills that are its sole stock-in-trade.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is out in cinemas on 19th October and on 3D DVD and Blu-Ray on the 29th of October 2012. For more information, visit the website.
Watch the trailer: