GOODBYE DRAGON INN

 (Bu San)

Directed by Tsai Ming-liang. Taiwan. 2003.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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Only yesterday, the last drive-in theatre closed in Vancouver. The old movie palaces of my childhood where patrons paid 25 cents to watch a double bill plus news and cartoons while listening to the Wurlitzer organ during intermission are now shopping malls or revivalist churches. In Goodbye Dragon Inn, set in Taipei, Tsai Ming-liang (What Time is it There?, The River) pays tribute to an experience of cinema that is dying. The decaying Fu-Ho theatre is about to be torn down but still welcomes the outcasts of society: old men, gay cruisers, the crippled and the lonely, and the ghosts and spirits from a different age. With the rain coming down heavily outside, the theatre still attracts few patrons and those it does are more interested in furtive sexual contacts than watching the film, stalking their prey through sterile corridors, looking for any shred of human comfort. 

In the audience is a gay Japanese man. Only two other people watch the 1961 Kung-Fu classic Dragon Inn by King Hu, considered one of the best martial arts films of all time. A woman with a clubbed foot runs the ticket booth and hobbles around the empty theatre, hoping that the projectionist will notice her but he makes a special point of looking the other way. We soon discover that the two older men watching the movie were the stars of Dragon Inn, basking in their glory days. It is not clear whether or not they are real or spirits from the past, yet now they sit in the almost empty theatre watching their own movie and begin to cry. When the lights come up, there is only row upon row of empty seats. 

Tsai Ming-liang is known for his minimalist cinema and Goodbye Dragon Inn stretches the style to its outer limits. There is no dialogue until about 45 minutes into the film and then no more until about 20 minutes after that. Though the mood is somber, Goodbye Dragon Inn has a deadpan humour that redeems its sense of desperation and a humanism that raises our hopes. Fashioned with poetic solitude and emotional power, Goodbye Dragon Inn is a haunting elegy for a way of life that survives only in the minds of ghosts and old film critics. 

Howard Schumann
 
 
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