AKA: New Dragon Gate Inn
Director: Raymond Lee, Tsui Hark, Ching Siu-tung
Writer: Tsui Hark, Cheung Than, Hiu Mor
Cast: Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Donnie Yen, Hung Yan-yan, Yuen Bun, Ng Kai-wah, Lan Tun, Yam Sai-Kwoon, Yuen Cheung-Yan
Running Time: 88/99 min.
While I wouldn’t refer to this movie as an “epic” it does have a wide narrative and visual scope that places it head and shoulders over many other Chinese martial arts/swordplay films. It doesn’t need to resort to having people duke it out every ten minutes to tell its story, and the non-action scenes, by and large, are just as engaging as the fights. It rivals the overpraised Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in terms of slick cinematography and character development. Too bad it doesn’t have Yuen Wo-Ping to give it that extra “oomph.”
The fight scenes in Dragon Inn rely a little too heavily on wires and suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer for my taste. I think the term “wire fu” is thrown around a little too casually, and distinctions need to be made between the degrees to which the fights in films like this are, how shall we say, “enhanced.” You’ve got something like Iron Monkey (the ’93 version) where the role of wires is primarily to exaggerate peoples’ jumps and the impact of critical blows…well, OK. Fine by me. Then, you’ve got movies where the “martial arts” (note quote marks) choreographers go so overboard on having people bounce off walls and blow each other up without the help of explosive devices that they forget to have them…y’know, HIT each other. The best example of this type I can think of is the wretched Butterfly & Sword. Putting BOTH types of combat under the catch-all category of “wire fu” is, in my opinion, sheer folly.
Dragon Inn’s battles lie somewhere between these two realms, with people jumping all over the damn place and performing attacks straight out of a video game, BUT not forgetting to do some actual hand-to-hand fighting while they’re at it. It’s pretty obvious that a certain amount of undercranking was used in places, too. With the film’s above-average storytelling, though, the martial arts aspect somewhat lessens in significance. Rather than just waiting for the next outbreak of violence, you actually start to care about what happens to these characters. Maggie Cheung’s performance is definitely the standout of the bunch. She plays a seductive innkeeper who has her foreign chef make meat buns out of her “victims” and she seems to be on both sides of the conflict…a real bitch, but still inexplicably likable. Donnie Yen, on the other hand, does very little other than stare straight ahead really intensely until the film’s bloody climax.
Not a bad movie by any means, but not exactly the instant classic that Tai Seng’s DVD packaging makes it out to be, either. They say this restored director’s cut is 103 minutes. Wrong…it’s 99. The theatrical release, I’m guessing, was 88. Ric Meyers (Inside Kung Fu magazine) has a commentary track and, praise God, you can watch it dubbed or subtitled (are you listening, Dimension?). One of those rare HK/Chinese films that doesn’t really need any polish and can be enjoyed, to some extent, by just about everyone (or at least those who want to see Maggie partially naked).
Numskull’s Rating: 7/10