Dragon Inn Review

Posted: May 21, 2016 in Action, Foreign, Reviews
Tags: , , ,

Dragon InnToo often lost in the hype surrounding anniversary re-releases and 4K restorations of classic films is whether these movies still maintain a contemporary entertainment value or are they of interest only to cinephiles and film school students. So far in 2015, we have seen the 75th anniversary release of The Maltese Falcon and a return to theaters of the 1954 classic, On The Waterfront. Not only are these two movies among the most influential in film history, both remain riveting cinema and still hold the power to enthrall a mainstream audience.

That is not the case with “younger” movies from the French New Wave movement. Undoubtedly, movies such as Robert Breton’s Pickpocket (1959) and Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965) are worthy of study, but each creaks with age and outdated artifice. Pickpocket suffers through long, dull stretches, while Alphaville seems to have been the inspiration for 1000 Saturday Night Live sketches mocking European culture. Yes, a film lover is “better” for having seen them, but they also breed an intense desire for an immediate viewing of some good old genre flicks to restore a sense of fun to the movie-going experience.

So where does the new 4K restoration of Dragon Inn fall on the spectrum between duty and delight? First, let’s look at the facts behind the film. Dragon Inn was released in 1967 and is regarded as a touchstone event in the wuxia genre. (Wuxia – meaning martial arts hero – being to the Chinese kung fu movie as the samurai is to Japanese films or The Man with No Name is to Sergio Leone.) The plot will be familiar to those currently enjoying Game of Thrones: eunuchs have seized power in the kingdom by controlling the intelligence apparatus and are busily executing rivals and their families. The offspring of the former Minister of Defense have fled, but evil Tsao Shao-chin (Bai Ying) has ordered his minions to trap them at the Inn at the Dragon’s Gate.

Four heroes will join forces to protect the helpless, led by Xiao Shaozi (Shih Chun), who definitely has an early Clint Eastwood vibe going. Assisting him is the innkeeper and an old Army buddy, Wu Ning (Cho Kin) and a brother-and-sister team Chu (Hsieh Han) and Chu (Polly Shang-kuan), who pass themselves off as brothers even though no attempt is made to disguise the fact that the latter Chu is obviously female. Some have criticized the lack of a credible disguise as a shortcoming, but it is far more likely that this was a cultural conceit that domestic audiences were familiar with.

The story follows familiar lines, and the action sequences are a bit rudimentary, particularly for modern viewers accustomed to wires and CGI, but Dragon Inn remains a pleasure to watch nonetheless. Part of the enjoyment is recognizing the cross-fertilization of international movie making. Elements of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Leone’s Dollars trilogy are evident, just as inspirations for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the  Bride’s battle against the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill can be seen. The pacing is crisp, the actors are enjoyable, the direction is assured and powerful, and the ending is surprisingly hardcore.

King Hu won at Cannes in 1975 for A Touch of Zen, another film which received a digital makeover and a limited theatrical release. If the opportunity presents himself, check out his work – and not because you feel you have to.

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