Goodbye, Dragon Inn

I watched Tsai Ming-liang’s 2003 release last night. Anybody into this fellow’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, I’m not sure), the film captures the theatre’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 film’s dialogue comments upon the actions taking place in the auditorium, but mostly Tsai’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 woman’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.

5 thoughts on “Goodbye, Dragon Inn”

  1. this arrives from netflix in the next couple of days–will weigh in once we’ve seen it.

    for those who haven’t been following the comments on the “million $ dead baby” thread, jeff is squuib, captain hook to mike’s peter pan.

  2. just finished watching.

    towards the end of the movie a character says sadly, without a trace of irony, to another: “no one goes to the movies anymore”. well, “goodbye dragon inn” has made me rethink my relationship with movies; that is to say, it has made me want to watch less of them. at its best it reminded me of the kids in the hall’s mr. heavyfoot shorts, and made me wish i was watching those instead. indeed, one long sequence seems to be inspired by “mr. heavyfoot goes to the movies”. there is very little dialogue in the movie but sunhee picked up the slack. some samples: “stupid, shitty movie!”, “why did you pick this?”, “if that woman climbs stairs one more time…”.

    i can’t tell if the fact that we didn’t turn it off means that it was somehow compelling anyway, or whether it means we refused to give up on the possibility that something might happen to make watching the rest of it worthwhile.

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