Audiences have seen fighters in Hong Kong kung fu movies flash lightning quick moves and soar unimaginable heights. They've seen Jackie Chan's (成龍) improvisational, comic sparring.
In director Wilson Yip's (葉偉信) Dragon Tiger Gate (龍虎門), they are treated to a colorful flurry of action that blends futuristic backdrops, video game-like sets and garish costumes in a new aesthetic scheme for local action cinema.
Based on the Hong Kong comic book by the same name, Dragon follows two estranged brothers, Tiger Wong (Nicholas Tse 謝霆鋒) and Dragon Wong (Donnie Yen 甄子丹), who join fists to defeat an evil lord who tries to destroy their family's kung fu academy.
Cartoon characters brought to life by live actors carry the risk of coming off as phony. Hollywood can minimize that danger with lavish set and production design.
Director Yip didn't have the luxury of a bottomless budget. Instead, he succeeds by carefully controlling the film's look and sticking to a simple, straightforward plot.
The film, set in Hong Kong, is shot almost exclusively on compact, elegant sets mixed with beautiful illustrations of a beefed up skyline that give a futuristic feel. When Yip shoots on location, he chooses sites that mesh with the surreal plot, such as buildings with commanding views of the city.
The cast is tastefully made up and dressed with disheveled eye-covering dyed hair, snugly fit leather, denim jackets and brightly colored shirts, partly thanks to style consultant William Chang, the famed production designer behind the moody look of art-house director Wong Kar-wai's (王家衛) films.
Yip doesn't try to recreate the comic book in real life. He injects pockets of live action into it. The result is more of an animation than a full-fledged action film.
The movie retains the feel of a comic, which justifies its simplistic plot of good versus evil and cheesy childhood flashbacks.
On the Net: www.dragontigergatemovie.com.