Dragon Tiger Gate is a martial arts school in Hong Kong that uses martial arts to help the poor advance themselves, such as training street orphans, and that has become much loved as a result. Movies based on comic books aren’t expected to be deep on any level, but Dragon Tiger Gate goes to the ranks of a respectable storyline that borders on impressive. I could actually spend more time discussing the hair of the actors in this film than the actual plot. Seriously, the wig makers and hairstylists obviously spent more time fretting over the details on the cast’s hair follicles than the writers in charge of adapting the script. The action was also directed by Donnie Yen himself, which shows as he is now experienced and mature in his style. Honestly speaking though, he still has a long way to go to catch Yuen Wo Ping.
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. A chance encounter in a restaurant brings the two brothers together over a fight with a rival triad gang. 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. But it does not go down well at all with the Jiang Hu boss Shibumi, who then decides to wage war on everyone with his own unique form of cape assisted power kung fu.
So what does Dragon Tiger Gate do well? Well, the promotional materials promise a load of martial arts action and the film certainly delivers that. The costume and sets design is a nod to the comics. Sets such as the ‘Tiger Dragon Gate’, ‘Japanese restaurant’ and ‘Inn’ looks as though they are practically lifted out from the pages from the manga. The inclusion of hand-drawn comics-like images serving as backgrounds has a nice, nostalgia touch. Needless to say, you won’t be spending a whole lot of time trying to figure out what is happening in Dragon Tiger Gate. It’s a basic movie, constructed from basic plots, with its one saving grace being the intricate action choreography by Donnie Yen.
Giving credit where credit is due, the only real reason why “Dragon Tiger Gate” even gets a passing grade is thanks to the plentiful action. Which seems to leave director Wilson Yip in the cold. For me, the fact that he is a 40 year old guy playing 20 and, unlike his young co-stars, all too aware of the days when his talents would have been better showcased, is kinda’ sad. Maybe that is why they relied so much on CGI. Reliance on heavy CGI just distracts and takes away from the visceral feel one wants from flying feet and pounding fists. Overall the movie is a nice piece of comic book escapism which could really use a good producer/director. I’d say watch it for the fight scenes (especially the first big one).