Thursday, 7 June 2007

Dragon Inn (1967)

Chinese title: Dragon Gate Inn (龍門客棧).

This is the next King Hu masterpiece that followed on the success of his seminal work, Come Drink with Me (1966) that he made in SB the year earlier. This one, however, was made in his native Taiwan. This is the 2nd of the 3 impressive wuxia flicks that were delivered by King Hu during this period between 1965 and 1972 that I would like to call the Golden Age of Wuxia Films. And King Hu was big part of the reason, and Chang Cheh was the other.

Bai YingThis was the 1st time - as far as I know - the Chinese audience was introduced to the infamous Eastern Depot ('東廠'. Sometimes it was translated by some historians more literally as 'East Factory'). And certainly not the last. What started as nothing but domestic helpers in the imperial palaces in the previous dynasties, and by the Ming Dynasty, it created a situation where these 'half men' could hold high official positions.

One such good example is Admiral Zheng He, and a bad example is our villain the Head of the Eastern Depot (pronounced 'Dongchang'). The powerful eunuchs led to the eventual downfall of the Ming Dynasty. The Ming's imperial court had only themselves to blame as they brought this on themselves. Ironically, the eunuchs were able to gain such powers precisely because this was the 1st Ming emperor's grand strategy to prevent the loss of his imperial power. I agree that eunuchs weren't the primary cause of Ming's demise, they were the catalysts.

Dragon Inn (1967)Would such castrates whom often portrayed on the screens as effeminate men could achieve great martial arts skills that requires great muscular strength? I dunno. Nobody had done scientific research on them, which should be fascinating.

Who says wuxia flicks aren't informative or educational?

King Hu had developed his strong signatures in this and all his subsequent movies - the frequent uses of low camera angles (to make act(ors/resses) look imposing), the breathtaking natural panorama, suspense, the use of traditional operatic music in the background during fight scenes, especially the wooden clappers.

The qinggong had just leaped into this movie, which wasn't seen in his previous movie Come Drink with Me just a year earlier. This must be 1 of the 1st, if not the 1st wuxia with qinggong being shown in Chollywood (Shanghai wuxia in the 1930s and 40s is an entirely different story). I suspect King Hu is the 1st to introduce qinggong into Chollywood. Although its use was still quite limited here (and pleases the audience who prefers the more realistic, old schooled, down-to-earth action sequences). There were a lot of swords through to the sides to pretend it went through the guts.

Minus the nascent martial arts technical skills, the visuals of this movie is typically impressive, and indeed quite unrivalled by most of today's wuxia films. It wouldn't spawn a remake in 1992 if it wasn't considered a classic worthy of it.

Any which way you want to slice it (with a sword or a dagger), this is a classic with pioneering innovations on par with his previous wuxia masterpiece Come Drink with Me.

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