I watched Tsai Ming-liangâ€™s 2003 release last night. Anybody into this fellowâ€™s films (a Chinese-Malaysian filmmaker who has lived and worked in Taiwan since his early twenties)? Goodbye, Dragon Inn was stunningly frustrating yet captivating all the same. There are basically two narratives that drive the action. Set in what once was a regal now dilapidated Taipei movie palace (a concrete mausoleum full of ghosts or maybe those mysterious men in the belly of the building are simply cruising for sex, Iâ€™m not sure), the film captures the theatreâ€™s final screening before closing its doors and jumps back and forth between the handful of audience members and staff in the cavernous theatre with the 1966 King Hu kung-fu epic Dragon Inn being projected on the screen.
At times the film within the filmâ€™s dialogue comments upon the actions taking place in the auditorium, but mostly Tsaiâ€™s camera simply observes utilizing deep focus photography, extreme long takes, strong visual compositions and a muted color palate that brought Edward Hopper to mind. There is some humor (a Japanese tourist who seems to be looking for the right seat or a light for his cigarette or maybe even sex) is particularly funny. The heart of the film, however, belongs to the wearied theatre manager who moves awkwardly through the building with a pronounced limp performing the banal and quotidian tasks required of her. The juxtaposition of this womanâ€™s disabled body with those figures on the screen that seemingly transcend the limits of the human body offered up a potent commentary on the powerful lure of the cinematic experience.