Dragon Inn

Reviewed by YTSL

For many Hong Kong movie aficionados, this film is probably best known for its featuring an acrobatic striptease duel between Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia and Maggie Cheung.  While this scene is really amusing and cleverly done, it is but one of several in this Tsui Hark production in which Brigitte the Great and the Magster spar, interact and light up the screen.  Frankly, for THIS Hong Kong movie fan, this alone was reason enough to not only go in search of but also purchase this video!

For others -- do they exist?! -- who need other incentives to check out this 1992 Film Workshop remake of King Hu's 1966 (or 1967?) "Dragon Gate Inn":  I will state that IMHO, this surely is one of the best of the
"new wave" swordplay fantasy dramas which is what made Hong Kong movie converts of many people as well as one of the most outstanding efforts of that movie industry's banner year (It says so much that the Best Actress nominees that year were:  Maggie Cheung for "Centre-Stage" (a.k.a. "Actress") and this movie; Brigitte Lin for "Handsome Siblings" and "Swordsman II"; Anita Mui in "Justice, My Foot!"; and Chingmy Yau for "Naked Killer").  Lest my words not suffice to convince, I will quote a professional movie critic's evaluation of the film as "wonderfully satisfying" (Howard Hampton, in "Hong Kong Babylon", 1997:340).

DRAGON INN starts off simply enough:  Power-hungry Eunuch Tsao (Donnie Yen) kills a (fellow) high government official and then uses the dead man's two children to try to lure out the high official's right-hand man, Chow Wai-On (portrayed by Tony Leung Kar Fai).  Chow sends out a rescue party, headed by his swordswoman lover, Yau Mo-Yan (who comes in the agreeable yet formidable form of Brigitte Lin).  Upon effecting a successful rescue of the innocents, the group rendezvous with their leader and comrade at an isolated inn whose proprietor is a woman named Jade King (played with more than a hint of mischief by Maggie Cheung).  Unfortunately, before they can set off together, heavy rain comes pouring down and the arch-villain's henchmen arrive at the inn.  However, even before then, the sense had already been gained that there's much more to things at the DRAGON INN than meets the eye...

This assessment is as true of this quality movie as it is of the desert establishment inside which much of the story takes place.  The point to bear in mind about the former is that it contains so many elements (that are well done) and, consequently, has so much to commend itself.  For example, there are quite a few breath-taking -- because they are creative, spectacular and/or hyper-violent (we're talking the use of prisoners for target practice and carving of limbs to the bone here) -- outdoor and indoor fight scenes (It helps that Donnie Yen is a bona fide martial artist).  Still, while it definitely can be classified as an action movie, this 100 minute-length film also contains quite a bit of verbal jousting (much of which effectiveness fortunately survives the bad subtitling job) along with various episodes of bargaining and maneuvering.  On a visual note, I found the extended close-ups of the actors -- not least the two outstanding female leads but even the two child actors -- as interesting and satisfying as striking shots of a colorfully outfitted army of (what seems like) thousands on the move and in action.

All in all, this clearly ambitious production contains seamlessly woven together elements of:  High and touching drama, chuckle-inducing comedy, the sadness that comes from loss, sweet romance, brazen attempts at seduction, all manner of trickery, honorable sacrifice, and tense waiting and intrigue as well as various types of masterfully choreographed (by action directors, Ching Siu-Tung and Yuen Tak) combat.  At the end of the day though, it really is the three main characters, their intriguing interplay (Tony Leung's "hero" is not only Eunuch Tsao's prey but also is the man whose love Maggie Cheung's inn-keeper would like to wrest from Brigitte Lin's woman warrior), the movie's overall mood (often taut, largely anticipatory, never anti-climactic) and certain specific messages (I detect the hand of Tsui Hark in succinct yet hardly throwaway comments such as "there is no righteousness in politics", "[the] more tricks you play, [the]...easier it is to get success" and "in order to do some damn righteous things, we suffer great loss") which really "make" the film for me.

Trivia note:  I have read that Michelle Yeoh was originally down to act in DRAGON INN but scheduling conflicts caused her to be replaced by Maggie Cheung.  I frankly find it difficult to imagine the action goddess in the role of the saucy Jade King and consequently have to conclude that Brigitte Lin -- who can definitely "do" flirtatious and conniving (catch her in "The Other Side of Gentlemen" and "Police Story"!) as well as externally-stoic-but-internally-passionate was originally slated for that, if truth be told, meatier (pun intended!) part...

My rating for this film:  9.5.
Michelle Yeoh in publicity shot for Dragon Inn