Kuan Tai Chen
Xiao Ran Li
Xiao Li Yuan
Cartoon martial arts
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Dragon Tiger Gate (2006)
14th Apr 07
Three young martial arts masters fight for justice on the streets of Hong Kong.
Adapted from a very popular Hong Kong manga comic of the same name, Dragon Tiger Gate is the tale of three heroes fighting for justice in a modern coming of age tale of good versus bad, with a load of flashy video-game kung fu thrown in for good measure.
It’s essentially the story of two brothers, Dragon and Tiger Wong, who are separated when they are young by the chance death of their parents and are brought up individually by opposing factions. Dragon is raised by Kun, who works for a triad gang called Jiang Hu, while Tiger grows up at Dragon Tiger Gate, a peaceful martial arts organisation ran by Tiger’s uncle Master Wong. Both grow into skilled warriors under a strict moral code including Dragon who, despite working for the triads, does his best to distance himself from their criminal activities.
Anyway, a chance encounter in a restaurant brings the two brothers together over a fight with a rival triad gang, and also introduces the nunchaku wielding newcomer Turbo. He yearns to learn from Master Wong and so tries to join Dragon Tiger Gate. Meanwhile over at the Jiang Hu hideout Kun has decided to retire from the gang, which suits Dragon fine and Kun’s daughter Xiaoling, who’s struck up a friendship with Tiger. But it does not go down well at all with the Jiang Hu boss Shibumi, aka The Black Pagoda, who then decides to wage war on everyone with his own unique form of cape assisted power kung fu.
And that’s pretty much it as far as the plot is concerned. As you’d expect, the movie takes the well worn martial arts structure of heroes make friends, heroes train, heroes’ guardians are attacked while they’re away, heroes confront bad guy too early and get whipped. Then our heroes go away, lick their wounds, have a little training montage then pile back in to the villain’s HQ for the big fight finale. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as the pacing is right and the slow character building bits aren’t too ponderous, but sadly Dragon Tiger Gate is quite guilty of exactly that.
When the screen does burst into energetic fights they are quite thrilling though. Wilson Yip, the director who brought us the dizzying heights of Bio-Zombie and Skyline Cruisers has loads of fun whipping the camera around through the kung-fu melee, and in the restaurant battle early on in particular picks some beautiful overheard panning shots as the fight erupts from room to room. Similarly the martial arts choreography of the fights themselves is pretty decent in a very Street Fighter-esque exaggerated way (Eighteen Dragon Slaying Kick anyone?), being flashy and CG assisted but certainly not in a covering up for lack of skill way. But the main issue with this film is that, for a tale so simple and shallow, too much time is spent with characters starring into the skyline (with a wind machine out of shot blowing their hair around) pondering their futures, or sulking over doomed romances, with the odd flashback where necessary. If only they could have kept this stuff to a minimum and got the fights in a bit more regularly it would have helped the movie immensely.
Still, it’s always fun to see stuff like a cool blonde guy with an impossible flick playing wallie with a tennis ball and a nunchaku, and that golden bell nunchuka shield manoeuvre was pretty cool. So if like me you like pyrotechnic stylized kung-fu you will probably enjoy Dragon Tiger Gate more than your average film fan. Just get ready with the remote to fast forward through the dull bits…
Versions Available on import DVD. Also having a cinema release in June, but premiering at the Fighting Spirit Film Festival at the Excel Centre in May.