By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 15, 2011 at 6:06PM
China is going 3-D. The country built up its 3-D infrastructure for "Avatar," and now Hong Kong action master Tsui Hark's $35-million Jet Li epic "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate"--filmed in 3-D--opens on 5000 3-D and 61 IMAX screens in China on Friday, against Zhang Yimou's "Flowers of War" and Tom Cruise's "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." It's a far cry from the tentative 3-D scenes in Woo Ping's pioneering "True Legend."
For an American, watching a complex Chinese-language historic adventure in IMAX 3-D involves reading floating subtitles--not ideal when watching a Jet Li action fest crammed with spectacular VFX. Bona Films, which is seeking a North American distributor for this massive movie, would do well to spend some coin to dub it. Stateside audiences have enough trouble with the best Chinese movies in 2-D. Send this out as a 3-D action event movie for Hong Kong action fans and it might work.
"It's always a problem, the culture barrier, which becomes a separating factor, categorizing audiences," Tsui told me before the release of his $20-million international hit "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame." "Whenever we in the industry use CG or a technique, software or hardware, we must be very careful to design in such a way to give the audience something unexpected and unpredictable, not always the same thing. It's about how to make a story interesting and fun to watch."
Indeed. Tsui brought over a tech consultant from "Avatar" to train his team for six months, and used the latest Red camera. The movie opens with a stunning flyover of the port in Shanghai. The 3-D is extraordinary, although some of the action sequences go by too fast. While the Ming Dynasty political machinations are laborious (a dubbed edit could simplify the plot for western audiences), the flying sword fights among a gifted ensemble of men and women and an elaborate sandstorm climax are spatially stunning and jaw-dropping.
Tsui also shot $20 million "Detective Dee" with the Red camera. It was a global hit (and scored a spot on Richard Corliss's Time ten best list). Tsui reportedly took an equity position on this one, so he might make some money if it hits.