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Issue #184 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES November 3rd, 2003

Dragon Inn
(1992; Film Workshop/Seasonal Film Corporation)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: San lung moon haak chan
Mandarin: Xin long men ke zhan
English: New Dragon Gate Inn

More densely plotted than King Hu Chin-chuan's 1966 original, this Film Workshop remake unfolds in the Ming Dynasty, when the emperor was just a pawn and the eunuchs were the true power brokers. As the film opens, Eunuch Tsao (Donnie Yen Chi-tan), the psychotic leader of the East Chamber, executes one of his chief rivals in the government. Seeking to capture the official's second-in-command, Chow Wai-on (Tony Leung Kar-fai), Tsao orders that the dead man's children be exiled and taken through the desert, in the hope that Chow will try and rescue them. The Eunuch's plan is only half correct, however, as the siblings are saved instead by Chow's lover, Yau Mo-yin (Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia). Accompanied by her small troop of fighters, Yau takes the children to Dragon Inn, a desolate establishment run by the sexy, double-dealing Jade (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk). Chow arrives at the Inn and catches Jade's eye but before he and Yau can get the children to safety, Tsao's three subordinates (Lau Shun, Lawrence Ng Kai-wah, and Xiong Xinxin/Hung Yan-yan) materialize with their troops. Throughout the stormy night and the day that follows, the two sides play an uneasy game of deceit, while Jade profits by selling her services to both parties. However, her deepening affection for Chow soon forces her into choosing sides, just as Tsao and his army arrives at the Inn for an all-out offensive.

This is a Tsui Hark production and the action directors are Ching Siu-tung and Yuen Bun, so it goes without saying that the martial arts choreography is spectacular. Unlike some of Tsui's other efforts from this period, however, the story is consistently engrossing and effectively builds tension through intrigue and character interaction, rather than just the threat of impending violence. Lin is formidable in one of her characteristic roles, and Cheung is amusing as the sly and seductive proprietress (the two have a memorable confrontation early on that is better seen than described). Another strong component is the excellent score by Phil Chan Fei-lit, which makes use of traditional instruments and features a reprise of the original's opening credits theme, one of the most recognized pieces in all of Chinese cinema. On a lesser note, DRAGON INN has also gained some notoriety for its cannibalism subplot: Jade has her "barbarian" chef gather up all the bodies that accumulate in the establishment, and transform them into meat buns for the unwitting guests. The chef also earns his stripes on the battlefield, using his impeccable carving skills to flay all the flesh from one opponent's arm and leg before the startled party even feels any pain. The supporting cast also includes Elvis Tsui Kam-kong, Yuen Cheung-yan, and Yam Sai-kwoon.

In conclusion, a note about this version. Theatrical prints of DRAGON INN run 88 minutes or about 15 minutes shorter than this release. Tai Seng's cover art proclaims the DVD to be Raymond Lee Wai-man's "complete director's cut," something that many writers (myself included) assumed to be the case. However, in Lisa Morton's book "The Cinema of Tsui Hark" (available from McFarland & Company and recommended), Tsui disowns this edition, which he says was prepared without his or the cast's knowledge (which explains why everyone is looped by other performers). Mei Ah's apparent goal was to pad out the running time as an excuse to release the movie as a double laserdisc set, even though 103 minutes would still have comfortably on a single platter. To my knowledge, the Taiwan VHS release is the only one to offer the shorter version; all editions released afterwards contain the longer re-edit. As is evident above, I like this expanded variant but it would be a shame if Tsui's preferred cut was never to be seen again on video or (especially) DVD.

Cover art courtesy Tai Seng.

Brigitte Lin. Image courtesy Tai Seng.

From left to right: Lau Shun, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung. Image courtesy Tai Seng.

Maggie Cheung. Image courtesy Tai Seng.

Brigitte Lin. Image courtesy Tai Seng.
Tai Seng #87764 (U.S. label)

Dolby Digital 1.0

Cantonese, Mandarin, and English Language Tracks (all post-synced)

Optional English Subtitles

18 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With Video Grabs

Letterboxed (1.85:1)

Coded for ALL Regions

Macrovision Encoded

NTSC Format

99 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Contains brutal violence

DVD menu courtesy Tai Seng.

Australia: M 15+ (High Level Violence)*
Great Britain: 18
Hong Kong: II*
Ontario: R (Brutal Violence, Martial Arts Violence)*
Singapore: PG [Passed With Cuts]

* - rating refers to the shorter theatrical version

The old Mei Ah Gold laserdisc (derived from the same master as that initial three sided release) is a tad sharper and brighter, with slightly superior contrasts. The presentations are otherwise comparable, with fairly vivid colors and light speckling throughout the source material. The optional subtitles on the DVD offer a new and far superior translation that allows Western viewers to better appreciate the humor, double talk, and innuendo peppering the dialogue, and the disc also includes a bearable English dub track, in addition to the Cantonese and Mandarin versions; the three channels all sound passable. Light smearing can be detected during a handful of tracking shots; the digital compression is otherwise fine. Extras consist of scrolling bios/filmographies for stars Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Kar-fai, and Donnie Yen, a HK trailer, video promo spots for this film and some of Tai Seng's other DVDs, and an audio commentary by Ric Meyers. Aside from several errors and badly mangling most of the Chinese names, Meyers ably provides the backgrounds of the participants. His interpretations of the political undertones in the plot are all over the place, however, alternating between sage and just plain silly. He also tends to state the obvious, in order to fill time between the more relevant moments warranting comment. The track is out-of-sync with the visuals by a few seconds and there is a mildly disruptive layer change at 1:06:55.

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