September 27, 2006


promo art for DRAGON TIGER GATE

Did you ever date someone who was dumb? Like, really dumb? Their politics were all wrong, their opinions were annoying, their deeply held beliefs were as sound as a styrofoam cup and every time they opened their mouth it just hurt your head? But they were drop-dead gorgeous and had the sexual appetite of a love-starved lynx. And because they were so good looking, and because they did things in the bedroom that you’d only ever read about, you kept coming back, again and again, despite your better judgement. It was shallow, it was selfish, it was wrong...but it felt gooood.

That’s DRAGON TIGER GATE. Stupid and shallow but really, really hot and crammed with hard bodied action.

Based on Tony Wong’s long-running 70’s comic book, DRAGON TIGER GATE is the BATMAN FOREVER of Hong Kong action movies, only better looking and you get more fighting: it gives comic books a bad name.

The plot is as disposable as a Kleenex. Dragon Tiger Gate is a super-righteous martial arts school run by Hong Kong legend, Yuen Wah. Top student is Tiger, played by Nic Tse who once again demonstrates that he is cooler than Jesus.

Donnie YenWhile dining out in an enormous restaurant that looks like it was built by investors who wanted people to fight in it (enormous, under-decorated, multi-leveled banquet halls full of breakaway walls and tables), Tiger gets into some nonsense over a plaque that has great sentimental value to a bunch of gangsters. Someone must fight! Enter Donnie Yen, playing Dragon, an enforcer for one of the crime gangs who seems to have been promoted through the ranks due to some seriously impressive hair. No matter how hard he kicks, or how fast he punches, one of his bangs is constantly draped photogenically over his right eye like he’s some kind of kung fu Veronica Lake.

As we learn in the first of what are to become an endless series of flashbacks, Dragon and Tiger were brothers but they were separated at an early age because they spent more time than was healthy combing each others' hair. Now, the two of them are on different sides of the law but by the time the movie ends they will have been brought together by their martial arts skills, their devotion to righteousness and their love of hair care. Both of these man-boys sport long, flowing locks with supernaturally long bangs hanging down to their chins.

Fun fact: Donnie Yen does the action choreography in this movie, and he is also the co-producer which probably explains why he, as a 43 year old man, is playing a character in his early 20’s. Hollywood lesson of the day: if the producer wants to play a character 20 years younger than himself, then the producer will be playing a character 20 years younger than himself.

Tiger and gang (he has a gang, but they’re a fun gang of pals, not an evil gang of criminals like Donnie Yen’s crew) head on over to another “fight in me” restaurant, followed by director Wilson Yip’s camera that gets there by vaulting over rooftops, flipping around doors, slinking through walls and tiptoeing behind other patrons dining in private sushi rooms. This is one acrobatic camera and its athletic antics are endlessly inventive and you never get tired of them, unlike the plot, which the filmmakers get tired of right about...NOW.

Unfortunately, Dragon shows up at the restaurant to get back the plaque. Fortunately, he turns out to be a righteous guy and he has half of the medallion that Nic Tse’s Tiger has, proving they’re brothers. Unfortunately, he punches Tiger to take back the plaque. Fortunately, he doesn’t hit him too hard because he has a grudging respect for Tiger. Unfortunately, another bad guy in his gang has drugged Tiger’s gang so the fight isn’t fair. Fortunately, Dragon gets angry about this and beats up his own gang. Unfortunately, this winds up upsetting all the other patrons. Fortunately, one of the patrons is Turbo, played by Shawn Yue, who is instantly identifiable as a lead character in this movie because he obviously spends way too much time on his hair. Unfortunately, it turns out the plaque was a gift to Dragon’s boss from a guy named Shibumi. Fortunately, like I said, by this point director Wilson Yip is as tired of the plot as we are and he basically abandons it letting brief, pointless dialogue scenes serve as place-fillers between the action, which is plenteous.


While Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen’s previous movie, the hardcore SHA PO LANG, built up its doomed story brick by blood-soaked brick and saved almost all its action until a remorseless final reel, DRAGON TIGER GATE scatters action scenes liberally across the entire movie. And they’re good. Fists fly, bad guys get blown about by supernatural fist power, poses are struck, choppers are bent out of shape, gangs of henchmen bought on sale rush up and down hallways and staircases.

It’s all wire-fu, and Nic Tse and Shawn Yue aren’t martial artists, but Donnie Yen has spent his career developing a style of action choreography that’s like some kind of disgusting, eminently watchable chameleon. It sucks up every fight style it sees and replicates it, eating up screen space like a true showman, with combatants’ feet barely touching the floor while they unleash an arsenal of moves from muay thai, wu shu, and professional wrestling.

But between the fight scenes you get nothing, except for some gorgeous photography (every scene is bathed in a warm, golden light as if the actors were rotisserie chickens under a heat lamp) and some deliriously bad drama nuggets, including the best romantic scene in a swimming pool since Elizabeth Berkley swam laps with Kyle MacLachlan in SHOWGIRLS. Donnie Yen’s Dragon is beloved by Rosa, an evil girl in his gang whom he once saved. How did he save her? The rescue gets referred to so often that I expected something dramatic, but when the inevitable flashback finally rolled around it turns out she was just stuck in a tree. Now she’s been sent to kill him in a swimming pool, but it’s her birthday and she wants nookie instead. But Donnie doesn’t do nookie so she asks him to give her a tattoo real quick. Whipping out traditional tattooing needles, Donnie/Dragon goes to work on her back, probably planning to do a “Kick Me” sign, but instead settling for an SS lightning bolt. She’ll never get that off. He probably told her it was a pretty, pretty unicorn but every time she goes to the pool she’ll wonder why people stare.

Towards the end of the movie we suddenly meet the bad guy, a fellow in black armor named Shibumi, which sounds like a popular 70’s  board game for the whole family. (“Shibumi!” “Aw, mom, you won again?!?”) Shibumi is played by the voice of Louis Koo and by a series of interchangeable stuntmen stalking around in a crappy set of black armor that looks like Darth Vader’s footie pajamas. What is Shibumi so mad about? Why does he want to beat up everyone? His hair. One glance at his wiry, unmanageable locks and you know that every time Donnie, Nic or Shawn’s silky tresses blow seductively in the breeze it just kills him. Some people have great hair and some people don’t, but it would help if the people with good hair didn’t stand around on breezy rooftops or strut around with a technician towing a high pressure air hose who constantly makes them look like they’re in a shampoo commercial. Which is exactly what Shawn, Nic and Donnie do. When Shibumi busts into the Dragon Tiger Gate to beat people up it’s as if he’s convinced that they’ve got a bottle of Pantene’s secret formula hidden somewhere and he’s going to have it or his name isn’t ...Shibumi!  (“Yay! I won! I won!”)

hair care jealousyThis reason (hair care jealousy) for going after the Dragon Tiger Gate kids is as good as the reason the movie offers (still not sure what that is) and if you need a plot that’s any more solid than that to go between your fight scenes then this isn’t the movie for you. If you are going to watch DRAGON TIGER GATE may I suggest drinking? You and your pals can make a great game out of this movie. Here’s how to play:

1)    Whenever the film pauses to give a panting close-up to a Nokia product or to demonstrate how it works, take a drink.

2)    Whenever a cast member stands on the roof of a building, or sits on the railing of a high balcony, take a drink.

If you’re not falling down and/or passed out by the end of the first thirty minutes then you’re an alcoholic. So to make it challenging for you:

3)    Every time you get bored waiting for the ridiculous plot and posing to come to an end so you can see another gorgeously photographed scene of people hitting and kicking each other, take a drink. In fact, take five.

DRAGON TIGER GATE is all the bad relationships I wish I’d had, and all the animalistic physical action I longed for as a teenager, rolled up into one package. It should be sold in a brown paper wrapper, and you should not let your girlfriend, wife, husband or boyfriend find your DTG stash. Because it’s dirty. And it’s wrong. And it’s good. But in all the wrong ways, obviously. But that’s okay. You’re just going to watch it. You’d never marry it. Honestly.

September 27, 2006 at 08:30 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink


ha ha ha. love your review. which is much more entertaining than the movie itself.

Posted by: ahsup | Sep 27, 2006 9:55:21 AM

Best review I've read anywhere in a very long time.

Posted by: Bob | Sep 27, 2006 10:05:32 AM

Great review. Any chance I'll be able to find this on Canal Street or the Bowery (Or their intersection) this weekend when I'm in Manhattan?

Posted by: Rich Drees | Sep 27, 2006 10:55:52 AM

Review was awesome, i pretty much agree with everything too, the plot was so horrendous in how cliched everything was. Love the hair care and Donnie in his 20's comments haha.

Posted by: Darren | Sep 27, 2006 1:31:34 PM

thx for the review grady,
That seems to be the general consensus regarding this film.

Your constant emphasis on the heros' hair is more interesting when taken in context with the source material. Long time fans of Tony Wong's work (from the early 70's) will know that for a long time, Tony had a problem with character design. Simply put, he did not have enough variety given the sheer number of new characters he introduces every year. Remember, unlike American comics, most comics in Asia actually kill off their bad guys fairly regularly, necessitating the introduction of new and distinguishable characters constantly.

In the early years, Tony often resorted to the use of gimmicks to make individual characters unique and recognizeable. The most oft-abused gimmick ? you guessed it, it's the hair. Pull the hair down over one eye and you got the brother Dragon. Change the hair color and add a scar and you got Turbo. Keep Dragon's hair and add a Hitler mustache and that's another character (i'm not kidding!).

Creating dozens of new characters every year, year after year, is a fairly difficult thing to do. Tony eventually became better at it (I suspect it was in no small part thanks to some of his employees, some of whom have left the company and became famous on their own right), and reduced this need to be so gimmicky, but nontheless, this legacy lives on. Pick up an old comic and you'll realize that Turbo is just a blond Tiger with a scar, a nunchuk, and a tank top.

Posted by: Buma | Sep 27, 2006 3:32:53 PM

Why does 'Superfreak' run through my head when I read this review?

Funny, Grady. My brown paper bag covered copy hasn't arrived yet. Should I feel extra naughty for getting posters and bookmarks with it? *cracks whip* No!

Posted by: Screamingmimi | Sep 27, 2006 3:57:38 PM

Two THUMBS up (and my big toes too) for THE review of 2006! if only they did these sort of things in the papers....

Posted by: whazzup | Sep 27, 2006 7:47:24 PM

Grady thank you so much for this review! You as usual are hillarious but also insightful (I loved your comments re: Donnie's action careography)

Posted by: eliza bennet | Sep 27, 2006 11:41:00 PM

I sometimes worry I get too obsessed by hair in movies (I once worked for a wigmaker) but in the case of DRAGON TIGER GATE I felt it was totally justified.

Also, this flick is out on DVD. A quick trawl through any Chinatown DVD store will yield you a special two-disc edition for the price of a trim at SuperCuts.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Sep 28, 2006 3:54:50 AM

I'd been long wondering how to adequately sum up this film to people, what that certain turn of the phrase was that would distill the essence of Dragon Tiger Gate into an easy-to-digest concept. Having failed in the past, it seems you have outdone me again Grady Hendrix, and thus I will blatantly rip off the funniest parts of your review and claim them for my own. I suppose I am in your debt, both for making me seem more amusing, and providing an entertaining (and apt) review.

Posted by: Five Venoms | Sep 28, 2006 10:27:33 AM

your. review. was. great!

i just couldn't get the hair thing from all the stills that were posted before the movie released. i know it's from the anime, but sticking w/ those hairdos in a feature-length film was just asking for ridicule. hk movies are, so often, junk. movie-makers just keep making crap (hollywood, too) and then are befuddled why nobody liked it...

Posted by: movieluver | Sep 29, 2006 12:43:24 PM

Donnie looks better than most guys in their 20's (this is the land of hamburgers so what are you going to do?). He can pull it off so kudos for him. I've seen this movie already and while the plot could have been much better it was still a fun movie with moves and effects I haven't seen anywhere.

I know Grady doesn't like Donnie as his reviews of his films at best have a back-handed complimentary style to them. Take it with a grain of salt.

"Gives comic book movies a bad name" is the most ridiculous line I've heard in a while. Think about that line for a minute. If you believe that then I have cheap broadway property to sell you. Comic book movies? And this line didn't register on anyone's radar?


Posted by: El Santo | Sep 29, 2006 4:27:57 PM

Great review! DTG sounds like it'll be more fun than the overrated SPL. I don't want plot from a HK action film, I want awesome kung fu, wire fu, and if possible, lots of gun kata action too.

Thinking about it, Donnie Yen working with John Woo (preferably in Hong Kong and not the US) would be amazing.

Posted by: Talvalin | Sep 30, 2006 2:52:33 AM

Grady, your reviews are always entertaining... this is almost as good as your review of Holy Virgin v.s the Evil Dead, the epitomy of movie reviews. And your Nic comment... "played by Nic Tse who once again demonstrates that he is cooler than Jesus." I had not though of Nic in that sense, but you are right. Now I have to look for your "The Promise" review!

Posted by: lorac | Sep 30, 2006 7:59:00 AM

"I don't want plot from a HK action film, I want awesome kung fu, wire fu, and if possible, lots of gun kata action too. "

And as a HK film fan, I am not looking to ever hear that stupid word "wire-fu". :)

Posted by: the running man | Sep 30, 2006 9:56:47 AM

Grady....and anybody who saw this movie and Tony Jaa's The Protector - Tom Yum Goong - which one would you rather watch again?

Posted by: Marten | Oct 4, 2006 9:29:15 AM

Even though it wasn't a great movie, Dragon Tiger Gate. And that's because Dragon Tiger Gate can be called a "movie" unlike Tom Yum Goong.

Tom Yum Goong is so bad that you would think that the producers invaded a Thai porn set and just had all the sex scene replaced with Tony Jaa fighting.

Posted by: the running man | Oct 4, 2006 10:18:19 AM

That was a very funny review.

Although I have to say that I really enjoyed DTG. I think people have been taking things far too seriously. If you really want to see something stupid, watch Kung Fu Cult Master! Or any HK film with Richard Harrison in it!

DTG is extremely entertaining. Anyone who thinks otherwise has obviously had their sense of fun surgically removed.

Posted by: Simon | Oct 4, 2006 3:08:52 PM

I have to say that given a choice between DRAGON TIGER GATE and THE PROTECTOR I'd hands down watch DRAGON TIGER GATE again. Donnie Yen is very good at what he does, and the movie looks fantastic. It's shallower and dumber than I'd expect from a comic book movie these days since those are all serious, but it was a hoot and a half and had visual style to spare. Except for that final fight. What a letdown.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Oct 4, 2006 8:24:24 PM

you mean watching someone masturbate onscreen is fun?

Posted by: childisnotstupid | Oct 5, 2006 2:02:33 AM

hi hi hi

Posted by: jocelyn | Oct 8, 2006 2:33:56 PM

The action in this movie was spectacular, the premise reminded me of "Storm Riders" with it's cast of 2 main characters, a forgetable yet cool looking 3rd guy and your main villan who was introduced way too late into the movie.
I didnt really mind seeing Donnie Yen play a younger character even if he was the director. The man is in great shape and based on his performance in this film, he's still got it.
Tiger and Turbo are both useless characters. Both had absolutely nothing to do helping Dragon and even after receiving "special training" from Master Qi, they were obliterated by the main villain like practice dummies before the final showdown against Dragon. There should have been side battles against adversaries equal to their abilities. It just seemed pointless to even have them after seeing what their characters contributed to the film.

I don't like the comparisons I've seen on this post with SPL and Tom yung goong. Tony Jyaa is a great stuntman and true, his appeal may not be based on his ability to act, but I believe I'm not the only one who questioned if Tom Yung Goong should have been titled "Ong Bak 2" instead. Seen it, done it, over it.

SPL was a great idea, I mean Sammo and Donnie reunited, how could you psosibly go wrong? I'll tell you what went wrong. The editing. Whoever pieced the scenes together needs to be shot. The story was tolerable but the only decent fight sequence in the move took place near the very end. It was inexcusable of the director to force me to watch Donnie Yen trying to play a serious role when you were just waiting for someone to throw a punch at him, then it's on.

You forgot to mention that ridiculous Donnie Yen scene where he's crying in the pouring rain. Wow, somebody get this man an oscar.

Posted by: Ray | Oct 10, 2006 2:54:49 PM

Excellent review of the movie. You pointed out every single possible thing wrong with the movie and made me realize that I am an alcoholic. The movie was great entertainment if you're not really serious about acting, plot, or story line.

Posted by: vinhbui | Oct 14, 2006 2:11:52 AM

Wow I just have to say that's an awesome review and basically right on. If anyone watches this movie for the story I'd laugh my ass off, but very true that it is awesome in the way of action. This has to be one of the best reviews I've read. Sadly this story is still light years ahead of Tom Yum Goong.

Posted by: Quoc Nguyen | Jan 3, 2007 3:19:24 PM

the reviewer must be very upsad with her mom.

Posted by: me | Feb 2, 2007 6:18:43 AM

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