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Goodbye Dragon Inn

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Goodbye, Dragon Inn

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
A Movie-going Experience about, among Other Things, the Movie-going Experience Jan. 4 2006
By Sur-reel Life, All About My Movies - Published on
Format: DVD
Tsai Ming-liang's follow-up to his breakthrough film, "What Time is It There?" is an absorbing visual poem about the pros and cons of going to the movies. While it is less expansive than his previous outing, it clearly belongs alongside the director's other films. Like the rest, it features lonely characters in an urban setting, as well as long, static shots.

"Good Bye, Dragon Inn" takes place in an old-fashioned movie house, which has one screen, shows revivals of classics, and suffers from a lack of customers. The Fu-Ho Grand Theater, as it is called, doesn't quite live up to its namesake anymore. Much of the interior seems dilapidated, and the overall mood approaches sadness.

The movie alternates between a ticket woman with a bad leg (Shiang-chyi Chen), who seems to be the only employee of this vast theatre, and a young man (Kiyonobu Mitamura) who has come to enjoy King Hu's martial arts epic "Dragon Inn." She happens to be away from the booth when he wanders in, so he sneaks into the theater sans ticket. The two characters remain on separate paths: she performs her nightly routine, while he attempts to enjoy "Dragon Inn." Through the course of the film, they never connect with each other. Nor anybody else, for that matter.

Practically half the movie is spent showing the ticket woman hobbling to her locker, a Herculian task given the Fu-Ho's size. Often, the director will let the camera linger until the character retreats from the frame completely. This technique slows down the rhythm of the editing, which affects the speed at which the audience perceives events. But it also emphasizes the solitude of the character, since she remains the sole subject of Ming-liang's interminable shots.

In the case of the young man, the extended takes capture his growing frustration. He does not enter the Fu-Ho Grand looking to be an island onto himself. But petty annoyances, stretched out over the course of long, uninterrupted shots, go a long way towards alienating him from his fellow movie-goers. He hops from seat to seat, but everywhere he goes, he encounters couples who make loud snacking noises, or sneakers next to his head. Occasionally, his interest is piqued by a fellow patron. Unfortunately, his friendly approach often meets a cold shoulder.

The youth never acheives any kind of connection with anyone. There are men who cruise the Fu-Ho looking for dispassionate sex, but it's dispassionate to the point of being invisible. In one scene, which takes place in the men's room, he never realizes sexual congress has been happening in a nearby stall until the surprise appearance of the second participant. The joke is how subdued, how unimpressively muted, both parties must have been to accomplish such stealthy relations.

Somehow, the youth locates a hidden labyrinth, frequented by men who wear yearnful looks. They wander through shadowy passageways, eyeing one another, squeezing against each other in narrow spots. These shots depict friction without actual heat. The youth's standards, being higher than some, explain why he holds out until meeting someone who tickles his fancy. He approaches a boyishly-handsome stranger in a blue button-up (Kang-sheng Lee, a Ming-liang regular since 1992's "Rebels of the Neon God"). But despite early indications, this one isn't interested either. Once again, instead of hooking up, the young man finds himself left high and dry.

The way the director handles it, however, proves strangely amusing. He waits until the moment both characters appear most intimate-the stranger having ignited the youth's cigarette, as well as his libido. When the former leans in as if to kiss the stranger, the latter nonchalantly states the theater is haunted, then walks away. One suspects that the youth has just encountered a ghost himself, but he is too busy being sexually frustrated to heed the message.

Could the Fu-Ho really be haunted, or was the stranger simply messing with the young man's mind? Several scenes imply the former, such as the ghostly young woman who makes eating sunflower seeds seem like Chinese water torture. There is also the appearance of two actors from the film "Dragon Inn": Shih Chun and Tien Miao (another veteran of Ming-liang's films). They mourn how no one goes to see movies anymore, and how the images of their younger selves have faded from the public mind. In either scenario, these characters could be people off the street, or they could indeed be spectres. Ming-liang never states anything explicitly.

Personally, I much prefer the ambiguity. The suggestion of ghosts completely changes our perception of shots at the beginning of the film. Remember those opening images: Countless heads staring forward at the projection against the movie screen. In later shots, what happened to those extras? Were they ever really there, or could Ming-liang have been implying something more mystical, that human beings leave part of themselves behind, even when they go to the movies?

Upon looking back, I wondered whether the ticket woman, who never interacts with anyone, could have been a ghost. Perhaps she is cursed to haunt the corridors of the Fu-Ho, a Sisyphus-like spirit who sweeps floors instead of rolling boulders. More likely, however, she's a real person, whose condition restricts her to menial labor. But working at the cinema allows her certain privileges: There is that wonderful moment when she walks behind the theater screen, and stares up at the giant image of a warrior woman from "Dragon Inn." The camera cuts back-and-forth between her and the female fighter, as lights from the silver screen play off her face. Not only does this moment perfectly capture the liberating power of the cinema, it offers insight into the ticket woman. We realize that, in spite of the difficult working conditions, she might have chosen to be here all along, in exchange for moments like this one.

"Good Bye, Dragon Inn," is noteworthy enough for being filmed in the director's signature style. It's also set in an interesting place, and has something to say about movie-going experience. In addition, everything that happens to the youth while he tries to watch "Dragon Inn" adds up to a humorous assemblage of common moviegoer complaints.

Above all, the movie takes place in a theater, which Ming-liang turns into a microcosm of big city problems. The Fu-Ho itself is an historical edifice left to rot, and contains episodes about personal space (the "noise pollution" from the snack-eaters in the viewing room) as well as social alienation (the lonely ticket woman, the silent men in the labyrinth). There is also a crime issue, as deviant behavior has creeped into a place that welcomes young children (the bathroom liaisons, the gay men cruising the labyrinth).

What caused this downward spiral? Is the decline of the Fu-Ho Grand Theater predicated by the same factors that have affected the movie-showing business in America? Too much piracy? Too many entertainment alternatives? Has their industrialized culture broken too many communities into disparate islands onto themselves, for whom the thought of sharing space, time, and experience seems unbearable?
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Typical Tsai, and that's never a bad thing Dec 12 2004
By neon rebel - Published on
Format: DVD
In Tsai Ming-liang's Goodbye, Dragon Inn, he says goodbye to Taiwan's old way of life with King Hu's seminal Dragon Inn unspooling in the background. It's really hard to review it as there isn't much of a plot to speak of, and the first line of dialogue is not even uttered until half way into this 82 minutes film. For the most of the film, characters just navigate the labyrinth-like theater in search of companionship that never materializes, which probably infers to the presistent alienation in our modern world. Tsai's usual theme of water returns here too, and his reputation as the world's greatest restroom director (by one critic) is also reinforced. Tsai's original intent was to make a short film, but later decided to expand it into a near full length feature. That decision might explain the film's lack of concrete material, as scene after scene the camera just lingers for minutes at a stretch without anything happening on screen. Then again, that self-indulgent style is exactly Tsai's hallmark ever since his first film. I am not exactly complaining though, even if I prefer a slightly faster pace and more meat to the story. Still, your patience will be rewarded by an outstanding final that's pure melancholic poetry, proving once again he is the master at constructing the romance of loneliness and alienation. BTW, the film has cameos of two original actors from Dragon Inn.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
absurd April 14 2005
By D. J. Hatfield - Published on
Format: DVD
of course, this film has the dubious distinction of being tsai's most absurd, non-narrative, and slow film to date. that need not condemn it as film, but does as entertainment. it's this caveat that those who might consider watching any of tsai's work, but particularly this film, should keep in mind. that said, like everything else by tsai, the film appears random but is formally well-wrought. moreover, it manages to say something very important in a cinematic medium about the role of cinema and also time, in the context of a national imagination. is it a mistake that 'dragon inn,' the martial arts film, has movement but 'bu san' is pervaded by an eternal present, a frozen time? the contrast of the two is precisely part of the point: an elegy for cinema, 'bu san' is also a memory of another time, one in which there seemed to be a future. rather than be annoyed that tsai fails to entertain us, we should relish our distraction, annoyance, and boredom as having their own pleasures. or share an ironic connection with those who don't get tsai's point but are willing to speculate on it
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful film that can test your endurance yet greatly rewards the patient and observant. Aug. 17 2008
By Timmy K. - Published on
Format: DVD
I will admit that this film is not for everyone. This is a VERY slow film, there is very little talking, and many shots that linger on what seem at first to be insignificant things. Yes there is no overall plot beyond "the last operating night of a movie theater", but there are many other stories being told within that basic framework. If you actually pay attention to what the film is showing you, you start to see the stories of the people and the place unfold. You start to understand what their lives are, and what the life of the theater is and has been over the years. The place is something more than what it was meant to be. The people are doing more than what they seem to be, or would be expected to be doing in such a place. Today we are so used to listening to a film, and we forget about watching it. Seeing what is happening in the film rather than following the story through what is said in the film. We are so used to having everything laid out for us on a golden platter that we forget about paying attention. We forget how fulfilling it can be to suddenly put two and two together and realize what we are actually seeing, and what it means to everything else we have seen. Silent films, in a much broader and more obvious way forced you to understand the story based on what you saw on screen visually. If you've seen enough silent films you know that the dialog cards were actually often used very sparingly. Entire portions of the dialog would be delivered on screen with only the actors performances revealing what was being said. This film is very much like that only much more subtle, and without even the silent dialog to inform the viewer. You see these events and have to pay close attention and remember things for it to become clear why you are being shown it. But if you have any sort of patience in the end it pays off, and it feels like you have gotten something more meaningful out of this film than just a straight forward happy little story about a once beloved place. You understand the sadness and emptiness that permeates the place and the people in it. It is a very powerful film for anyone with the patience and sense of wonder to actually follow the stories as they slowly and silently unfold.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The first Tsai film I saw is still high on the list Jan. 6 2010
By Le_Samourai - Published on
Format: DVD
Perhaps Tsai's lightest and most thematically distilled NYFF-Goodbye Dragon Innand minimalist film to date, Goodbye Dragon Inn pares the dialogue to two brief exchanges that reflect the film's pervasive sentiment of disconnection: the first, with a displaced Japanese tourist (Kiyonobu Mitamura) cursorily on the lookout for opportunities for an anonymous sexual encounter in the dilapidated, near empty movie palace that is playing King Hu's classic martial arts film, Dragon Gate Inn, and the second, featuring the original Hu actors Tien Miao and Jun Shi, now middle-aged, as they meet by chance after the film's conclusion. Intimations of ghosts inhabiting the theater are physically reflected in the isolated souls of a beautiful ticket booth operator and bathroom attendant (Chen Shiang-chyi) - seemingly trapped in a dead-end job by her physical disability - and a projectionist (Lee Kang-sheng), who perform the empty motions of their tasks in a solemn, silent ritual of their seeming existential limbo. Elegantly filmed in rich, vibrant colors against the darkness of the desolate theater and infused with Tsai's idiosyncratically understated, deadpan humor, Goodbye Dragon Inn is a poetic and elegiac exposition on longing, synchronicity, nostalgia, and the death of cinema.