Reviewed by Alicia Glass
Warring factions of Eunuchs in an ancient Chinese dynasty and a prophecy of treasure in the desert when the Dragon Gate opens it brings together a whole host of good and bad guys!
This gets a bit complicated, so stay with me here, I’ll see if I can explain it. This is the Ming Dynasty in China, so it’s like we’re talking feudal era. In the Forbidden City with the Emperor, the Eunuchs of the palace have managed to acquire a lot of power. (And formidable fighting skills, which actually I don’t think would have happened, but it’s not real important.) And when the Emperor’s favorite Concubine discovers that another lesser Concubine may be sporting the Dragon Seed in her belly, the lesser escapes in terror and the would-be-Empress sends her formidable Eunuchs and their considerable resources after her. Jet Li (the only name I recognize) stars as Zhou Hai’an, a rather Robin Hood-like figure who shows up, robs the rich, helps the poor, and disappears. Throughout the movie, there seems to be confusion about the pronunciation of his name, or the use of it, when others dressed as his legend storm a fortress or whatever. The lesser Concubine is rescued by, we’ll call her Ling, a former fellow student of Zhou who still carries his flute, and taken to a particular Inn in the desert. There Ling meets up with a bunch of other treasure hunters, who are all apparently waiting for the sandstorm that hits only every 60 years, to uncover a lost city and what is supposed to be a lot of gold. There the bad guys and the good guys all converge for last fights, last rights, and the last man (or woman) standing will get it all!
The martial arts is fine, almost expected of Jet Li and all. The wire-fu is a bit much, and really so are the CGI fighting effects. Assuming you can wrap your brain around that plot explanation I just gave as part of your cultural heritage, or at least have a layman’s understanding of it, then you could understand why I say the movie is a bit like a Pirates of the Carribean adventure in Chinese aimed at their children. For all that, it is certainly quite watchable and never slow or boring. It might however before attempting to watch the movie, behoove you to look up stories like Dragons Inn, and the other cinematic works of Director Tsui Hark, like Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.