Director: Raymond Lee
Action directors: Ching Siu-Tung, Yuen Bun
Producer: Tsui Hark
Stars: Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Donnie Yen, Lau Shun, Lawrence Ng, Elvis Tsui, Hung Yan Yan, Yuen Cheung-Yan, Yuen Bun, Lawrence Ng
During a tulmultious time in China's history, it is the eunuchs (court adivsors) who held the most power. A group known as the "East Corridor" led by the vicious Tsao (Donnie Yen) begins killing high-ranking officials in order to make a bid for the emperor's throne. To bring out one of the top officials, Chow Wai-On (Tony Leung), Tsao kills another official and uses his two orphaned children as bait. Chow realizes saving the children is a trap, and so sends a group of mercenaries led by his lover Yau Mo-Yan (Brigette Lin). The mercenaries rescue the children and attempt to make their getaway through the desert, but inclement weather forces them to stay at the Dragon Inn, a crossroads for thieves at the edge of civilization run by the wily Jade King (Maggie Cheung). Soon, the weather isolates both the mercenaries and Tsao's troops at the Inn, and it is only a matter of time before the two groups clash.
Dragon Inn -- a loose remake of King Hu's classic Dragon Gate Inn -- is just a great movie from beginning to end. It is one of those rare films where not one single scene, or even a single moment, seems wasted. Every scene, every line brings the story forward, fills in information about the characters and interests the viewer. A lot of recent movies could take a few lessons from this film on the importance of scriptwriting and editing. At around 100 minutes, it is one of the shorter wuxia films I have seen, but it is undeniably one of the most powerful. From the first sequence where Tsao is testing new weapons on a group of unlucky prisoners to the final clash in the desert between Tsao, Chow, Yau, Jade King and a cannibalistic chef (did I forget to mention him? Yes, there's also quite a bit of horror and gore in this movie as well), Dragon Inn not only attracts the viewer's attention, it commands it. Everything is intergrated seamlessly here; the cinematography, editing and musical score making the techincal side solid as a rock, and an all-star cast delivering great performances along with some stunning action sequences courtesy of Ching Siu-Tung and Yuen Bun (probably two of the most under-rated personalities in the Hong Kong film industry) filling in things nicely on the other side of the (filmic) coin.
So why doesn't Dragon Inn warrant a perfect 10? Unfortunately, it is a case of your intrepid reviewer's weak understanding of Cantonese. The subtitles on most video versions are horrible -- the VCD I watched was no exception -- and there was many times I was reconsitiuting the subtitles into something legible in my head rather than concentrating on the movie proper. Perhaps over time, I will raise the rating and it will join that upper echelon -- it certainly has the goods to do so. At any rate, if you consider yourself a martial arts/swordsplay fan and haven't seen this movie, do so now. It's better than a lot of recent over-hyped films and is well worth your time.
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A review of the VCD for this movie can be found here
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