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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dragon Inn: Special Edition
Dragon Inn: Special Edition
Tai Seng // Unrated // March 13, 2001
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted March 22, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
With the huge successes of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (by far the highest grossing foreign-language film in the US ever) lots of unsuspecting moviegoers have had their first exposure to the Hong Kong genre of "wire fu," a balletic martial arts style that has actors soaring through the air suspended by thin cables. The effect is magical and, when used correctly, creates a mysterious atmosphere where anything is possible.

Dragon Inn (1992) is a popular Hong Kong film from that genre (and the even more specific genre of "inn" films) that incorporates a lot of these elements: Incredible physical feats, ancient intrigue, and stunning costumes and sets. Unlike Crouching Tiger, which added to the equation a sensual, romantic atmosphere, Dragon Inn is filled with broad characters and violent, manic plot twists. Dragon Inn concerns kidnapped kids, a desert hideout (the inn of the title), an assortment of bad guys, and some seriously nasty spicy meat buns. Those buns are cooked up by my favorite character in the film, a crazed gibberish-spouting chef whose knife work plays a key role in the film's sickening climax, which takes the action from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The fights that lead up to that climax vary in excitement. Whenever there are too many warriors the screen is so filled with chaotic movement that it becomes a little hard to understand or care about what is happening, but whenever the battles are one-on-one the viewer is able to take in every back-flip and twirl. It is truly masterful stunt-work. The actors don't perform many of their own stunts, so the fights seem a little anonymous (there isn't the same thrill as there is in watching Jackie Chan dangle from a helicopter or Chow Yun Fat swinging his sword) but, still, there is enough excitement in most of the action scenes to dazzle any audience.

Dragon Inn stars a number of Hong Kong luminaries: Donny Yuen makes a creepy power-mad eunuch. He appears sporadically but makes a strong impression. Hong Kong superstars Brigette Lin and Maggie Chung are effective as a fierce but secretive female bandit and as the scheming innkeeper, respectively. Tony Leung is also good as a quiet, intelligent bandit. The huge cast of assorted sidemen is also excellent. In fact, all of the acting transcends the film's genre roots. There are moments when Lin's quiet yearning is as poignant as Michelle Yeoh's was in Crouching Tiger. In fact, the relationship between Lin and Leung has parallels in the latter film.

For all the silliness and lunacy there is a heart at the center of Dragon Inn, and that is what helps this film work on so many levels.

VIDEO:
The letterboxed image on Dragon Inn is a little disappointing. While it could be worse, there is a large amount of dirt and scratches on the print. It looks pretty worn, which given the age of the film, is understandable but regrettable. The packaging claims the picture was recently remastered from the original negative, which, if it is true, shows that techniques of negative storage need improvement.

AUDIO:
The film is available in Cantonese and Madarin (both Dolby Digital 1.0) and English (2.0). Strangely, the mono soundtracks are much more dynamic than the stereo English track. There are also English subtitles, which can lead to a fun game: Watching the film in English with English subtitles and noticing how the dialog is often translated in two unique ways that dramatically changes the meaning of what the characters are saying. Also, notably absent are the Chinese subtitles, which are usually included on Chinese films since both Mandarin and Cantonese are written the same.

EXTRAS:
This edition of Dragon Inn is billed as the director's cut with additional footage, although I don't know what the extra footage is.

A commentary track from "Inside Kung Fu" magazine contributor Ric Meyers is informative and entertaining. He points out some factors in the filming that aren't really apparent to the casual viewer, like the fact that these Hong Kong films are usually shot silent since they will ultimately need to be dubbed into so many different languages to play in the Asian market.

The disc also contains Chinese and English trailers, filmographies and biographies.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Fans of Crouching Tiger and The Matrix should definitely give Dragon Inn a chance. Even though it shares (or really, inspired) the acrobatic action in those films, the tone and characterization are totally different, and different ain't bad. As for fans of Hong Kong zaniness, the decision is already made. Dragon Inn is a perfect example of its genre.

Other martial arts DVDs:
The Buddha Assassinator
Jackie Chan: My Stunts
The Last Dragon
Drunken Master III

Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.

E-mail Gil at buskerdog@yahoo.com
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