The Dragon Tiger Gate martial arts school was set up to help the disadvantaged to fight back against their oppressors with kung fu. Some years later and the school is still going strong, and one of its students is Tiger Wong (Nicholas Tse) who today happens to pass by a young woman, Xiaoling (Jie Dong) who recognises him from her childhood. They tarry awhile, reminiscing until they realise that they don't know each other at all so awkwardly say their goodbyes and continue on their way. But they are linked, for Xiaoling has been brought up with Tiger's estranged stepbrother Dragon (Donnie Yen) and they're from opposite sides of the gangster underworld...
Dragon Tiger Gate was based on a comic book by Yuk Long Wong, and like many other adaptations from such sources, the film version emphasised the action. But it also leaned heavily on sentimentality, with the three lead characters treated to teary-eyed flashbacks from their childhood to explain exactly how they've ended up the way they have. In fact, the passage of time between the action sequences tends towards too lengthy, as when the protagonists are gazing into the middle distance you begin to wish they'd hurry up and return to the business of bouncing off the walls and throwing each other across the screen.
One of the main aspects you'll notice about this film is the hair: all three of the heroes, Tiger, Dragon and upstart newcomer Turbo (Shawn Yue) don the same hairstyle. Perhaps there's only one barber in the city that services the needs of martial artists, but the hairdo does get in their eyes, which is fine when they're posing with locks over one side of their faces, but does make you wonder how they can see out during fights or indeed when the wind gets up and blows it in both sides. Anyway, stylish this film is, and Tiger and Dragon find themselves working against each other when a special plaque is up for grabs between the two main crime gangs, a plaque which for some flimsy reason designates who looks after the trade in illegal goods.
Where does Turbo fit in? He's a wannabe fighter who thinks he has mastered the nunchaku but is put in his place by the leader of the Gate. There's a plot development every five minutes here, but such novelties as the opening combat featuring one fighter jumping through two bodies flying at him horizontally are what keep you watching. The three leads are suitably charismatic, and of course Dragon and Tiger do put aside their differences amidst much soul-searching. This is mainly because they're under threat from a bigger baddie than they have ever met before, a mask-wearing bully boy who squashes the Gate leader and demolishes anyone who dares stand in his way. Can the battling trio beat him? And who needs a punchbag that big? Isn't that showing off? Dragon Tiger Gate would have been better if they'd contained the schmaltz, but it does reach highs of excitement as well as highs of absurdity. Music by Kenji Kawai.
[Cine Asia's Region 2 DVD has interviews with director and stars, a making of featurette, trailers, shooting diaries and more as special features.]