‘BIF! KA-POW! CRASH!’
This is the comic book aesthetic viewed so fondly in retrospectives of those formative, younger years. Colourful garb and improbable science dominated those moments in the school yard in between those regularly scheduled beatings from the schoolyard bullies.
Such sentimental attachment brings a welling of emotion from within whenever there is a cinematic realisation of scenes previously locked in poses by the constraints of paper and ink — even in adaptations of source material that is otherwise completely unknown to my extensive library; locked away behind mylar and sealed plastic.
And such is the case for Dragon Tiger Gate — well at least it would be if any of the above represented anything but the most romanticised of fictions (perhaps complete fiction is a bit far fetched but it sure makes for a better punchline).
There is no mistaking Dragon Tiger Gate for a film originating from comic books. Even if the characters of Tiger, Dragon and Turbo weren’t sourced from any kind of printed, graphic material, it seems the comic book aesthetic is so pervasive in films that it is hard not to argue about their influence. That is of course purely visual though, again, as a comic book film, the sensibility of the stunts and story are not only improbable and very, very silly but offer a shallowness that reflect its two dimensional origins.
Despite this, or perhaps more importantly, Dragon Tiger Gate is a Donnie Yen film. Unlike his contemporaries in Jet Li and Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen has tended to play supporting roles or villains in his career with only a handful of films where he is the star; such that his recent rise to prominence, first in SPL and now this, it certainly seems that despite Jackie’s return, the industry is looking for a new action hero in the stead of the pretty boys that get churned out. Like SPL, Donnie gets to to choreograph the fights and let himself show off and more importantly, especially for a comic book film, pose.
That is not to say that Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue don’t get to fight as Tiger and Turbo respectively. They have their brief moment of spotlight to show off their signature moves and signify their relevancy in a film completely overshadowed by Donnie’s fights. In fact Tiger’s role as the younger brother who can’t help but get into trouble with the uber-criminal syndicate is a greater driving force for plot progression than the vague attempts to add in a romantic subplot. As for Turbo’s presence… well, he just happened to be around.
Similarly the villain is a non-character up until the climax in the film where he makes his presence known and beats everyone up until near dead. It’s interesting that his identity is never expanded upon beyond the idea of a complete ‘badass’ (regularly reinforced with the occasional cuts to his training sequences invloving giant props) and any scene involving his ‘secret’ lair (the single building in a polluted wasteland) are the most obvious computer generated scenes in the film. The fakeness of the location evokes a complete suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy the entire film but is most significant in the final climax where the fight should have had lava flowing in the background.
The point is Dragon Tiger Gate is a shallow, two-dimensional film with a plot that is an excuse to move from fight scene to fight scene. But then, that is the entire point of the film and the film not only knows this but revels in it. From the clichéd, tainted hero finding redemption to the simple fight in the name of righteousness, there is no complexity in Dragon Tiger Gate to distract you from the furious and intense fight scenes and gorgeous and over-the-top design aesthetic.