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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dragon Inn (Blu-ray)
Dragon Inn (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // July 10, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted July 18, 2018 | 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
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Directed by King Hu after he'd made Come Drink With Me for the Shaw Brothers a year prior, 1967's Dragon Inn, a Taiwanese production for Union Film Company that did very well commercially and that received plenty of critical acclaim but which was, until recently, tough to find in a good quality English friendly version.

This period piece begins when Wu Chien, the Minister Of Defense, is put to death. His execution was brought about by a eunuch named Tsao Shao-chin (Bai Ying) who had been spreading lies about him specifically to get him out of the picture. Tsao Shao-chin is left in charge of the Eastern Agency while Wu's family is sent by order of the Emperor to live in exile outside of the palace. Tsao Shao-chin is no fool, however, he knows that Wu's family will want payback for what he did and so he has a team of his guards try to assassinate them. It doesn't work, and so Tsao Shao-chin decides to step things up by hiring two deadly swordsmen in his employ, Pi Hsiao-tang (Miao Tien) and Mao Tsung-hsien (Han Ying-chieh), to Dragon Gate. The plan is that they will intercept the Wu family there as they try to cross the border to Mongolia.

The swordsmen arrive at the titular location, run by Wu Ning (Cho Kin), and essentially take it over, making it their base of operations, but they were beat by the arrival of Hsiao Shao-tzu (Shih Chun), a Mr. Chu (Hsieh Han) and Ms. Chu (Polly Shang-kuan), each stull loyal to the late Wu Chien and each as deadly with a blade as either one of Tsao Shao-chin arrogant assassins. It stands to reason then that there will be a showdown at Dragon Inn… one of fairly epic proportions!

Shot primarily on location in Taiwan, Dragon Inn has a much broader, more epic look to it than the work Hu (also an actor, costume designer and producer) did for the Shaw's where studio sets were the order of the day. The mountainous terrain plays a big part in the effectiveness of the film's look, particularly in the last half hour or so where the expected confrontation plays out and the terrain is incorporated beautifully into the fight choreography. Even when the film slows down, which is does in its middle stretch, it's always beautiful to look at. Complementing the location photography is some great costuming and set design resulting in a really bright, bold and colorful looking film.

The story itself, which plays out very much like a traditional American western story, is compelling. It offers plenty of backstabbing and intrigue and a few nice twists and turns along the way, but it's the action set pieces that really impress. The swordplay is graceful and stylish and the editing does a great job of keeping the action set pieces fast paced and dangerous. The various combatants who come in and out of the film do fine work here as well, with Bai Ying really nailing it as the head eunuch and lead villain in the film. It would seem that King Hu was more interested in creating fantastic set pieces than with realism, as the use of weapons and hand to hand combat here exists only in the realm of fantasy, but when it's this well done and this entertaining it doesn't matter.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Dragon Inn looks excellent on Blu-ray, framed in its proper 2.35.1 aspect ratio in a 1080p AVC encoded presentation taken from a recent 4k restoration. Detail is great, color reproduction is spot on and black levels are good. There are, not so surprisingly, a few shots that are in softer focus than the others, but the vast majority of the picture is crisp in that regard. There's virtually no print damage here at all and the disc is nicely encoded, meaning it's free of any compression artifacts or edge enhancement. Grain looks nice and natural here and texture and depth are frequently quite impressive.

Sound:

The Mandarin language LPCM Mono track, which comes with optional English subtitles, is clean, clear and nicely balanced. The score has a surprising amount of depth to it for an older single channel mix and while there is occasionally a little bit of distortion in the very high end of some of the spoken dialogue, if you're not listening for it you probably won't really notice it. No issues here, really, things sound just fine and the subtitles are easy to read and free of any errors.

Extras:

Criterion includes a series of featurette on the disc, starting with The Phoenix Rises, which is an all new interview with actor Shangkuan Ling-Fung wherein she talks about being cast in the film, her thoughts on its legacy and of course, what it was like working with director King Hu. Up next is Making History, which is a new interview with actor Shih Chun. It covers similar ground, seeing the actor talk about how his experiences were on set, his thoughts on the film and his co-stars and what it was like taking direction from King Hu. Art In Action is a scene analysis by author and New York Asian Film Festival co-founder Grady Hendrix. Here Hendrix talks about Hu's directing style and artisanship while diving fairly deep into a specific scene from the movie, offering up plenty of insight into the director's unique style and ability along the way.

Aside from that we get a few minutes of archival newsreel footage documenting the film's Taiwanese theatrical premiere, an original theatrical trailer, static menus and chapter selection. The disc comes packaged with a full color illustrated booklet that contains an essay on the film from film critic Andrew Chan as well as credits for the feature and some notes on the technical presentation.

Final Thoughts:

Dragon Inn is an impressive and ambitious wuxia picture that holds up really well. It does take a little while to get going but once it hits its stride, that drama and character development that takes up the bulk of the first hour gives way to some blistering action set pieces. Loaded with style and intrigue, it's a film that remains as entertaining and engaging as it is influential in the world of martial arts cinema. Criterion's Blu-ray release looks and sounds great and it contains some decent supplements as well. Highly recommnended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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