October 1, 2018  (Web Review)

Dragon Inn

Criterion, 111 min., in Mandarin w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $39.99

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

After the success of Come Drink with Me (1966)—a pioneering wuxia pian (“martial chivalry”) adventure that mixed martial arts, romance, comic action, and historical settings—Hong Kong director King Hu went to Taiwan for the opportunity to make films with greater freedom. Dragon Inn (1967) pits a group of enigmatic strangers against soldiers sent to murder the children of a popular government official. All converge on the titular isolated inn where they play out games of social civility in between sneak attacks and martial arts skirmishes that range from clever little displays of skill within the inn to sweeping battles against the rocky backdrop of the desert and lush mountain forests nearby. Shih Chun, Hu’s favorite leading man, is the wily, grinning loner who swats aside arrows without spilling a drop of wine and catches daggers with chopsticks, while Shangkuan Ling-fung costars as a warrior woman traveling in the guise of a young man. The two team up to protect the children from the hordes of soldiers sent by a power-hungry eunuch (Bai Ying) in the court of the Chinese emperor. This landmark production set a new bar for the popular wuxia pian genre with its inventive action scenes and dramatic locations, which Ang Lee paid tribute to the film in his Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Making its U.S. home video debut on DVD and Blu-ray in a Criterion special edition featuring a new digital restoration, extras include interviews with Chun and Ling-fung, select scene analysis by Asian film expert Grady Hendrix, and archival footage from the film’s premiere. Recommended. (S. Axmaker)