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Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

As convoluted as it is winningly grandiose, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate works best when its characters aren't explaining themselves. Directed and scripted by Hong Kong film pioneer Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame), Flying Swords is both a sequel to a remake (Hark's New Dragon Inn, from 1992) and a remake in its own right (King Hu's essential Dragon Inn from 1967, also the source of New Dragon Inn.) No familiarity with these previous films is necessary to enjoy Flying Swords, however, as Hark makes his protagonists directly tell you who they are and why that matters every step of the way. Before a monumental sandstorm descends on a small desert inn, multiple parties—including barbarian Tartars, court-appointed assassins, a Robin Hood–esque bandit (Jet Li), and a peasant pregnant with a bastard royal child—all pile onto one another. The labored scheming that ensues is theoretically interesting in that it eventually shows how interdependent the film's pro- and antagonists are. But in practice, the many scenes where characters describe at length their plans feel tedious. Fortunately, when Hark does allow his feuding community of heroes and villains to have at one another, he delivers a couple of unhinged, overblown action set pieces, including a fantastic fight set inside a hurricane. Flying Swords might not live up to the promise of Detective Dee, Hark's recent comeback, but it does deliver frequently and always when it counts most. Simon Abrams


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