Double trouble - Flying Swords of Dragon Gate and the Assassin
Based on the film by King Hu, Dragon Gate Inn (1966), Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is a 2011 film directed by Tsui Hark and was the first Chinese language film to be made in 3D, as well as grossing over $100 million at the box office.
After watching the first film, I can say that the film was… quite different from the original. Very different, indeed. Though some of the elements were the same, namely the inn itself, the setting/time period, and part of the title, but those are generally the only things that stay relatively similar. It took a completely different direction from the very beginning at the film and became exceptionally flashy (gaudy?) in terms of special effects and action sequences, perhaps nearly overdone. Though, it was so outrageous at times that it was a bit spectacular, but too much of one thing is never a good idea.
Unfortunately, I think that Tsui Hark tried a bit to add too many different parties and characters into the once-simple framework, creating a somewhat rushed narrative with too many (unnecessary) side plots with not too much of an emphasis on any one character, save perhaps Zhao Huai’an and his imposter/love interest but those too felt hastened. Most of the characters in the film felt as if they had… little significance within the plot, therefore ultimately distracting and deviating far from the original concept. Many of the characters were killed off relatively quickly with little or no emotional connection being established between them or the audience, so it seemed of little relevance to those who viewed it and failed to wring out any tears or much sadness.
The use of 3D (or lack of thereof in the viewing that I saw) seemed to be more of a distraction rather than something used to help propel the story in any sort of way or fashion, as it seemed to be used for nothing more than “something in a fight scene will fly at the camera to make the audience recoil just a little bit more.” It also seemed to be prevalent only near the beginning and the end of the film, and was mostly forgotten during the middle sections from what I could tell.
I was also heavily disappointed at the writing of the pregnant courtesan, as it felt as if there was little (if any) signs or warning that would point at her betrayal, and it seemed as if it was just thrown in there as a feeble attempt to push the plot further to create even more potential action and drama. That could have been a very emotional and shocking moment if the character had been developed further, but all of her writing up to then portrayed her as little more than a nuisance plot device-y stereotypical clumsy damsel in distress.
The ending in particular was exceptionally abrupt and brought little, if any closure to the story and felt as if it was shunted in at the last moment as a final attempt to bring the now-convoluted film together, but fell short and seemed too off-the-wall. It even ignored the original main characters and instead shifted the finale to two of the secondary (or even tertiary) characters in their escapades, but I do not quite see why that had to be done.
For the sake of it being an important landmark in Chinese cinema, I will recommend this film, but I do not see much other reason to watch it otherwise and would definitely recommend the original over this. It had a lot of potential, but the film got caught up in trying to capture too many little things rather than focusing on the main, big picture and therefore fell short of its expected quality.
The Assassin is a film done by Hou Hsiao-hsien in 2015, and was nominated in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, where Hsiao-hsien subsequently won the Best Director award. It is a beautiful film in terms of design and color.
that does not necessarily equate it to being a watchable film by any means. The film’s plot is… complex, sufficiently so that a summary of the plot is necessary via very slow monologue part ways through the film (which was still unnecessarily slow and drawn out, therefore making the audience more confused in the end). On top of that, I accidentally ending up falling asleep (at multiple points for a few minute spans at a time), but that can be attributed to my potential lack of sleep from the night before, but most of it was due to the snail-like pace of the nature of the film.
One could argue that the hyperextended held shots during many points during the film were for the artistic value, so that the audience could really take in the radiance of the beautiful settings and stillness, but sometimes it was so extended that some of the shots seemed to pass the threshold of having an artistic element and instead becomes material for a masturbatory ego-trip for the director. Perhaps it was not my taste, but if many shots are overtly too long, then it will no longer feel special at all since there will be nothing (short) to contrast it with. Perhaps I would derive more excitement and enjoyment from a photograph in comparison to some of the scenes from this film.
The film itself also seemed to lose a lot of potential writing opportunities with the main character, Nie Yinniang, as halfway through the film I simply… stopped caring about her and what happened to her. It stopped being intriguing after the end of the black and white sequence, introduced a love plot (?) and then just got... confusing. Amazingly, for such a dreadfully slow film, the ending felt rushed and confusing. I do not know how they managed that, but they did. I was disappointed to see the end of the film end so abruptly as it almost felt like a huge letdown, especially after sitting through the whole film for a generally unsatisfying ending.
Though this is a wuxia styled film, there was very minimal scenes in there and them being so… short… it is a wonder to ask why this is even labeled as wuxia in the first place. The battles were ended short and abruptly, but perhaps that was the beauty of those battles; ones that would be settled at the beginning versus a long a flashy fight sequence.
That being said, the visuals, color design, and the framing of the film was absolutely magical and dreamlike, as Hsiao-hsien somehow captured the splendor and wonder of these empty and delightfully barren landscapes. The dark costume of Nie Yinniang contrasting beautifully against the muted and colorful natural and created sets. Each of these areas were skillfully captured, with each of their settings encapsulating a specific mood and tone that made the visual splendor even more vibrant. My favorite scene was probably the scene where Yinniang visits her master, Jiaxin, on the cliffside near the end of the film. Somehow, the clearing of the fog/cloud bank, revealing the landscape behind Jiaxin… I do not know how long it took for him to capture that moment on film, but it definitely is one of the most beautiful shots I have seen in cinema. I cannot acutely describe my emotions during that scene, but it captured something amazing that I will not forget anytime soon.
Would I watch this again? Maybe with a good amount of sleep the previous night and with a refreshed mind. Perhaps subsequent viewings would allow for a greater appreciation of the film and a breakthrough of realizations and ideas missed on the first run. Or, it would again feel dragged out, or even moreso now that I know the general flow of the film. It is a very beautiful film in appearance… but that really seems to be the main thing that goes for it. I am not sure if I would be able to recommend this film to many of my friends in good conscience, other than for the sake of the awe-invoking and beautiful visuals.