"Never go against someone from the Gate."
Take one long-running manhua (comic book), and team up the combo of the great Donnie Yen with Wilson Yip, the same men that brought us the fantastic SPL and Flash Point, and you should have a movie that beats 100% ass! Well at least you'd hope...
The Dragon Tiger Gate is a martial-arts school that has helped rid the town of gang activity and has also become a safe haven for kids that have become orphaned due to the Triad. Dragon (Donnie Yen) and Tiger (Nicholas Tse) are orphans in their own right, and are the sons of one of the schools co-founders, Wong Fu Hu, albeit from different mothers. Dragon's mother chooses to leave the Gate and live alone with her son. She gives him a jade pendant which has the character, "dragon" written on it, and tells him that Tiger wears the matching half of the pendant so that they will always know they are brothers. Dragon looses his mother to a house fire and tries to rush back and save her. Ma Qwun, the Triad boss working for Lousha Gate, a rival martial-arts gang, stops him from entering the burning building so that he doesn't lose his life. Now Dragon is under Ma Qwun's care and as he gets older, he takes on the role of Ma Qwun's bodyguard.
Years later, Tiger and his brothers from the school are dining at the same restaurant that Ma Qwun is receiving the Lousha plaque, which will prove that he is the top Triad boss in the Lousha Gate; second only to it's leader, Shibumi. While dining, Tiger sees a couple getting bullied and feels the need to intervene. The disrupts the deal going on upstairs and triggers a fight with Lousha's men. Dragon is called in to shut Tiger down, but during the fight Tiger gets his hands on the plaque. Ma Qwun sends Dragon to get it back by any means necessary. Another of Ma Qwun's retainers who is vying with Dragon to be the next in line to take over the Triad, shows up with some of his cronies to get rid of Tiger once and for all and take the credit for getting the plaque back. During the fight, Tiger receives help from a fellow patron named Shek Hak Long (Shawn Yue), and together they dispatch the horde of thugs. During the fight, Dragon looses his pendant and Tiger happens to be the one to find it; making the realization that they are indeed brothers. Will Dragon go back to his roots and rejoin the Gate? And will Tiger be able to get his help in bringing down the Lousha army?
Whew...there is a lot going on in Dragon Tiger Gate and I gave you the super abridged version. They story has been laid out by the comic book and the film tries its best to respect the source material, but when you have so much story to tell and such a short running time to tell it in while trying to keep it interesting, well that's one hell of a battle my friend. Dragon Tiger Gate does an decent job of trying to do such a task, but in the end it just comes off as stale with flashbacks happening left and right which take you away from the story at hand. So really, you just end up waiting for the next fight to take place. That's the main complaint with comic book movies, American or otherwise. Other than that, the fighting, when it happens, is pretty fun to watch. I highly enjoy the Japanese restaurant fight and the camera work that took place during it. Think Storm Riders with less "powers" and a lot more arm - swing - punch - pose. Don't go looking for a SPL or Flash Point style of fighting or you'll just be setting yourself up for disappointment. I know the idea was to make sequels for this movie, so I just would've liked to see the story paced out accordingly. As for the acting, the three lead characters were passable, but not being familiar with the comic I couldn't call them out on any discrepancies that they maybe didn't fulfill. So in closing, is Dragon Tiger Gate a great action movie in compression? No. Is it something to watch in order to fill an afternoon and say, "man, I saw Donnie Yen with long hair kickin' ass."? Yes. (converter)
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