Masters of Cinema Blu-ray: Dragon Inn
"A fun Western-style Marital Arts movie"
The special features were unavailable, so this review will solely be focused on the movie.
The 1967 Taiwanese movie Dragon Inn
is a very influential wuxia martial arts movie, setting the template for other movies in the genre to follow and was an international success. It has been painstakingly restored and is now a part of Eureka Entertainment's Masters of Cinema collection.
In 1457, during the middle of the Ming Dynasty, a cruel eunuch has become Emperor, Cao (Bai Ying) and ordered the execution of his loyal Defence Minister, Yu Qian. Yu's children are forced into exile. Despite this Cao orders the children's murder and they are protected by four of Yu's followers from Cao's elite East Division - an army known for their brutality.
The wuxia genre are historical martial arts movies with a focus on swordplay and superhero acrobatic skills. Modern examples would be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
and House of Flying Daggers
. Dragon Inn
is nowhere near as lavish or colorful as those movies, but it makes up for it with well-choreographed sword-fights and has a certain wit to the proceedings. Dragon Inn
is great for fans of sword-fights: they are a marvel to watch, being well framed and edited affairs. There are many fight scenes which are left unbroken, enhancing the experience. Some of the best fights are when Miss Zhu (Shang Kuan Ling-Feng) does battle with the East Division's officers and the final fight where the villain faces off against four people.
shares a lot of motifs with the Western genre. It is set in a dry, remote desert environment, similar to a Spaghetti Westerns of the era, having plenty of stand-offs, with the scenes in the inn being like conflicts in a Western saloon, matching the mind games and physical intimidation, heroes and villains face-off against each other. Dragon Inn
essentially looks and sounds like a martial-arts version of a Sergio Leone film (someone who was influenced by the works of Akira Kurosawa). Dragon Inn
's cinematography matches the look of Leone's Westerns, scenes of characters sneak into the inn like ninjas could have fitted into one of the "Dollars" movies and the music was like Ennio Morricone's, enhancing the action and tension on screen. There are clear echoes in the beats in the music between Dragon Inn
and the music of Leone's Westerns, matching the action and tension on screen. The action is as much about the build to a fight as well as a fight itself and the music amplifies it.
The main hero Xiao (Shi Jun) shares many attributes with a Western hero, a very confident man with enormous skill (he has the ability to catch arrows and throw knives in midair) and has a brazen attitude, willing to antagonise a bar full of soldiers from the East Division just to prove a point. Xiao is a little like The Man With No Name, a mercenary who claims he is doing a job because he is being paid, but really has a sense of right-and-wrong and not simply swayed by money.
also needs to be commended for having such a strong female character, particularly for the time it was made. Miss Zhu is shown to be an excellent warrior, her skills almost match Xiao's and she holds her against groups of soldiers. In relation to her brother, Miss Zhu is the more rational one.
Being a Taiwanese movie, Dragon Inn
does have the occasional jabs against the regime of the People's Republic of China. One of the main villains is called Mao, the head of the East Division who revels in his army's reputation for violence and cruelty. The Emperor also executes a popular and loyal minister, actions that the Mao's regime was very willing to take.
is a must have for anyone who claims to be a fan of the martial arts genre and works as an Asian version of a Western. Dragon Inn
may not have the greatest fight scenes the genre has to offer, but the movie still entertains because of its action and wit. It is a gem from the genre.