sȴ (1967)
Dragon Inn


Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 07/24/2009

The chasm created between producer Run Run Shaw and filmmaker King Hu over artistic differences on the seminal "Come Drink with Me" (1966) proved a blessing for the prolific director who spent nearly the remainder of his career shooting memorable pictures in Taiwan before attempting a return to Hong Kong cinema in 1990.

The vast landscape of Taiwan provided Hu with the proper atmosphere for his first Taiwanese picture "Dragon Inn" (1967) set during 15th Century Ming Dynasty rule that would have otherwise been restrained by the limitations of Shaw Brothers Studios.

Cinematographer Wa Wai-ying's Panoramic photography creates an ambience of gorgeous desolation; the script taking place almost exclusively inside and around the perimeter of Dragon Inn located on the barren unelaborated upon border of China where an evil eunuch's intelligent agencies plan to ambush the banished family of an executed interior minister.

The script, a gingerly-paced allegory for the Nationalist-Communist Civil War still fresh in the hearts and minds of the three major Chinese filmmaking bodies, is -- given the country it was produced in -- a nationalistic view of chivalry as a small band of heroic rebels fight the totalitarian eunuch's numbers inside the claustrophobic tavern.

Co-star Han Ying Chieh doubles as action choreographer and bases his close range meat-and-potatoes swordplay on the movements of Peking Opera a la his celebrated work on the aforementioned "Come Drink with Me."

Beautiful, meaningful, powerful: They just don't make 'em like they use to.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 07/20/2006
Summary: Location, location, location

In 15th century China, eunuchs hold all the power. The head of the Yu family has been executed, and his family is to be hunted and killed lest there be revenge. A plan to wipe out the remnants of the family is formulated and is to take place at the Dragon Gate Inn by the East Chamber agents. However, help is at hand when several loyalists turn up and throw a spanner in the works.

Although I’ve watched many an eastern action film by now, I’m still learning things. One thing I’m convinced of as of right now is that no one had an eye for location like King Hu. No film, from any era, achieves more with natural settings than this guy. The Dragon Gate Inn itself is an example: desolate, barren, remote – it feels like a character itself. However, in the final reel, we move away from this location (for the first time since the film began, barring the prelude and a few shots here and there) and what we have is truly gob smacking. Stunning vistas of mist-covered mountains are the backdrop for the film’s conclusion – and man, does it impress!

The film itself seems to be King Hu playing around with one of the early scenes in the seminal COME DRINK WITH ME. It’s like he said: “that scene with the Golden Swallow in the inn was good…what if I set an entire film in one inn over a relatively short space of time?” For the most part, that’s what we get: a reworking of that scene but expanded and extended.

We also have a connection with A TOUCH OF ZEN. The themes of the East chamber and the power of evil eunuchs are explored here. But whereas A TOUCH OF ZEN concentrated to a large degree on character and story, what we have here is more of a tour-de-force of traditional swordplay. I, for one, was slightly disappointed that the characters were somewhat under-developed (particularly that of Polly Shang Kwan) after being treated to the kind of character development displayed in A TOUCH OF ZEN, but somewhat surprised at the level of choreography displayed in the swordplay area. It has the usual wire and trampoline gags running throughout, but for the most part it is surprisingly free from gimmicks.

But it is the final encounter with the eunuch and his cronies that really impresses. The eunuch himself is unsettling – he’s blond, which gives him a strangely western appearance and of course is thoroughly evil. But the setting itself steals the show!

Like COME DRINK WITH ME, there is a sense a wry humour to it if you look closely – something that is not easily noticed, or even included, in films of this era. Speaking of which, this film is the earliest example I can recall of a film of this nature using a synthesizer (probably a Moog – I dunno, I’m a guitarist!) on some parts of the soundtrack. While it doesn’t sound as out of place as you might expect, it does still sound a tad anachronistic and I would have preferred the whole thing done by traditional Chinese instruments.

A small note on the Red Sun DVD. The picture quality is OK but not brilliant (it does have the occasional wear and tear marks running through it) and the audio is a little tinny but passable. However, the subs do disappoint at times (and go AWOL altogether for short periods) but this is to be expected of a Japanese disc. It’s just frustrating that this and A TOUCH OF ZEN don’t have proper remastered releases for us all to enjoy.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 06/28/2006

Widely regarded as one of the finest kung fu movies ever created, King Hu's Dragon Inn (aka Dragon Gate Inn) still holds up today, some forty years after its' original release. But tracking down a decent copy in the US has often been a tricky proposition. Thankfully, this has been rectified by Red Sun, who have recently put out the film on DVD, which will allow a whole new audience to experience this epic for the first time.

The story (as you might guess) centers around an inn located in one of the most desolate parts of China. It is a time of turmoil, with the evil eunuch Zhao (Pai Ying) looking to increase his standing with the emperor by getting rid of his enemies. Zhao has recently executed one of the members of the royal court, and sends his family into exile. Not wanting to create any more ammunition for the growing rebellion, Zhao sends a group of mercenaries led by the great warrior Shao Tung (Miu Tin) to the Dragon Inn to lay an ambush and kill off the remaining family members. The mercenaries quickly dispatch all the troops in the area and take over the inn. The plan seems to be well on its' way to fruition until various people come to the inn. After learing about the planned assassinations, the inn's guests come together to drive out the mercenaries, but then the inn becomes like a prison as the villains return to lay siege to it.

Most Hong Kong movie fans out there have probably seen the 1992 remake, New Dragon Inn, which was a great movie in its' own right, but quite over-the-top in terms of its' wire-fu action and gory violence. So those who have been weaned on films like that might be initially put off by the slower pacing and relatively bloodless action of the original version. But if you're a viewer with a bit of patience and give Dragon Inn a chance, you'll see why many consider the "old school" of kung fu movies the real "golden age" of Chinese film-making.

For starters, the movie is wonderfully shot and edited. In this day and age, when most action sequences consist of close-up two-second shots, it was great seeing wide shots where you can actually see what the performers are doing. Granted, the stuff here isn't up to the manic level of a Jackie Chan or Jet Li picture, but there's a lot of fights, and they get quite intricate -- especially towards the end, which culminates in a breathtakingly-shot five-on-one brawl near the top of a mountain.

I also really enjoyed the way King Hu kept things simple in terms of story-telling; he doesn't depend on any twists or double-crosses to keep things interesting. And some note should also be made of the actors, all of which -- especially the legendary Polly Shang Kwan -- do an outstanding job. Overall, Dragon Inn is an outstanding film, and deserves a viewing by anyone and everyone that considers themselves a fan of martial arts movies. When put up against most of the weak efforts put out in recent years on both sides of the ocean, there really is no comparison. This is one of those films that can truly be considered a "classic", and hopefully, it will continue to do so for years to come.

[review from hkfilm.net]

Reviewer Score: 9