Dragon Inn [Long men kezhan] ,
newly restored in 4K by Janus Films.
Ticket Information: $9.50 general admission at the door
courtesy of Janus Films:
The Chinese wuxia (martial arts) picture was never the same after King Hu’s legendary Dragon Inn. During the Ming dynasty, the emperor’s minister of defense is framed by a powerful court eunuch and then executed; his children are pursued by secret police. In the ensuing chase, a mysterious group of strangers begin to gather at the remote Dragon Gate Inn, where paths (and swords) will cross. This thrilling milestone of film history returns to the screen in a new, beautifully restored 4K digital transfer, created from the original camera negative.
• During the Ming dynasty, there were many eunuchs in the emperor’s court. They were considered reliable officials and nonthreatening to the royal bloodlines, as they could not marry and start dynasties of their own. They often gained large swaths of political and military power as a result.
• Director King Hu was a talented calligrapher, and he painted Dragon Inn’s opening credits himself.
• Many filmmakers have paid tribute, directly or indirectly, to Dragon Inn. In Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn, Hu’s film is playing as the last feature to ever screen at the historic Taipei Cinema. Dragon Inn actors Shi Jun and Miao Tien both appear in the audience. The camera work, choreography, and special effects of Dragon Inn have had a clear aesthetic influence on such modern-day entries in the martial arts genre as Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight has many plot similarities with Dragon Inn.
• Bai Ying, who memorably plays the eunuch in the film, would go on to play the eunuch in Teddy Yip’s entertaining Shaw Brothers film The Eunuch.
• Hu encouraged his martial arts choreographers to draw from the alternately fluid and rhythmic movements of Chinese opera. Rather than resorting to fast or slow motion, footage printed backward, animation, or other early special-effects techniques, the filmmaker relied as much as possible on the actual skills of his performers and on the magic of editing.
King Hu’s Dragon Inn was restored in 4K by the Chinese Taipei Film Archive and L’Immagine Ritrovata from the 35 mm original camera negative, which, fortunately, was still in relatively good condition. The primary focus of the restoration was correcting the main issues affecting the negative: flicker, dirt, scratches, splice marks, and a generally unstable image. As there was no vintage print available to be used as a color reference, notes on color timing held by the Film Archive proved to be key. The monaural soundtrack was likewise restored from the original sound negative, with distortion and cross modulation corrected using digital tools.
Shaw Bros to Dragon Inn
Though he would become the most influential director of wuxia movies in history, King Hu, born Hu Jinquan in Beijing, came to movies accidentally. An aficionado of Peking opera, comic books, and martial arts novels, Hu first became involved in the world of filmmaking when an acquaintance recommended him for a set decorating job at Hong Kong’s Great Wall Studio in the early fifties. Soon enough, Hu found himself acting in films as well. In 1958, he joined Shaw Brothers, Hong Kong’s premier martial arts film studio; founded in 1924, the studio had by this point become an action film empire, knocking out one fighting film after another with regularity and ease.
Though Hu started out as an actor at Shaw Brothers, his contract gave him the option of becoming a director. After cutting his teeth as an assistant director on such classics as Li Han-hsiang’s musical romance The Love Eterne (1963), he made his directorial debut in 1965 with the patriotic, anti-Japanese war film Sons of the Good Earth, in which he also starred. It was his third directorial effort, Come Drink with Me (1966), however, that proved revolutionary. Not only was this Hu’s first wuxia film, it was also a newly propulsive and realistically violent example of the genre, and it so captivated audiences that it revitalized the form, giving the generally artificial-looking, candy-colored Shaw Brothers productions an aesthetic shot in the arm.
Hu’s style, pioneered in Come Drink with Me, wasn’t just surface grittiness. He imbued his action with a compositional depth and maturity; focused intently on the physicality of his performers, rather than relying on special effects; used the camera as a balletic partner to the actors; sculpted his fight scenes keenly through editing rather than letting them play out in single takes; cast women in stronger, more central roles than the studio had before; and conveyed a palpable sense of Buddhist precepts.
For all these reasons, Come Drink with Me was a revelatory wuxia film, and the foundational work for Hu’s subsequent masterpieces Dragon Inn (1967) and A Touch of Zen (1971). But Shaw Brothers wasn’t impressed with this new brand of wuxia, and his relationship with studio head Run Run Shaw became frayed. With his newfound success and artistic confidence, however, Hu could write his own ticket, and after Come Drink with Me, the director left Shaw Brothers to make his own films independently in Taiwan, which had a smaller, more flexible and open-minded film industry.
The innovative Dragon Inn, produced with Sha Rongfeng for their short-lived partnership in the Union Film Company, set the template for nearly all wuxia films to come. A Ming dynasty—era tale of political exile and violent intrigue set in wide-open Taiwan exteriors, the film, with its aesthetic control and spiritual core, was evidence that the genre had broken decisively from its pulp past.
Although in the West most often applied to film, the term wuxia—literally “martial [wu] hero [xia]”—in fact refers to a genre of Chinese fiction that is represented in every medium, from literature to opera to, of course, movies. Dating back to 300 BCE in its protean form, the wuxia narrative traditionally follows a hero from the lower class without official affiliation who pursues righteousness and/or revenge while adhering to a code of chivalrous behavior. Brought to mass popularity in the early part of the twentieth century via a series of post-Confucian novels, wuxia soon spread to film with the appearance of Burning of the Red Lotus Temple, a now lost serial adapted from the novel The Tale of the Extraordinary Swordsman that was released between 1928 and 1931. Banned by the government in the thirties due to their subversive and supernatural elements, wuxia films returned to the screen in the fifties, taking the traditional narrative form while also borrowing elements—such as careful choreography—from Chinese opera. Following a strict formula, wuxia films—though always period pieces—can be said to have become fully modern in the 1960s, with the formation of the Shaw Brothers studio and the advanced direction of filmmakers such as King Hu. The commercial success of Hu’s Come Drink with Me (produced for Shaw) and Dragon Inn (produced independently) kicked off a wave of wuxia titles, which were frequently exported to the U.S. as reedited, dubbed action films during the martial arts craze of the first half of the seventies. Though the genre wavered in popularity in the succeeding decades, it returned to international prominence in 2000 with Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which is heavily indebted to Hu’s classics of the sixties and seventies.
“The audience is the camera. I don’t want the audience to sit and watch, I want it to move.”
courtesy of Janus Films:
Born in Beijing in 1932, King Hu moved to Hong Kong at the age of eighteen and started work as an illustrator for film advertisements. In 1954, he made his acting debut in the film Humiliation for Sale, and in 1958, through director Li Han-hsiang, he joined the Shaw Brothers studio as an actor, screenwriter, and assistant director. In 1963, Hu was first assistant director for Li on the film The Love Eterne, and the following year he made his directorial debut with The Story of Sue San. In 1966, Hu released his first wuxia film, Come Drink with Me, which was a major factor in the rise of the genre.
Dragon Inn (1967) was a blockbuster, setting box-office records in Taiwan, Korea, and the Philippines, and proved to have a broad and lasting influence. Its follow-up would not hit screens until 1971, after three years of filming. A Touch of Zen took the Technical Grand Prize award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1975, propelling Hu onto the world stage, and its bamboo forest duel became a classic scene and an indelible contribution to cinema.
Hu’s 1981 film The Juvenizer—entirely self-funded and self-shot—was his first comedy, and his only work set in the present. After The Wheel of Life (1983), Hu stepped out of the limelight until 1990’s The Swordsman, for which he made a comeback at the request of the younger wuxia director Tsui Hark. Hu was involved in the costuming, styling, and set design for the film, including setting up a massive set in Xitou, Taiwan. In 1992, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Hong Kong Film Directors’ Guild. The following year saw the release of what turned out to be his final film, Painted Skin. In 1997, while about to begin work on a film about the Chinese immigrant workers who built the transcontinental railroads of America, Hu died while undergoing heart surgery.
1964 《玉堂春》 The Story of Sue San
1965 《大地兒女》 Sons of the Good Earth
1966 《大醉俠》 Come Drink with Me
1967 《龍門客棧》 Dragon Inn
(part of the omnibus film Four Moods)
1971 《俠女》 A Touch of Zen
1973 《迎春閣之風波》 The Fate of Lee Khan
1975 《忠烈圖》 The Valiant Ones
1979 《空山靈雨》 Raining in the Mountain
1979 《山中傳奇》 Legend of the Mountain
1981 《終身大事》 The Juvenizer
1983 《天下第一》 All the King’s Men
1983 《大輪迴》 The Wheel of Life
1990 《笑傲江湖》 The Swordsman
1993 《畫皮之陰陽法王》 Painted Skin
LinksHere is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:
8/27/16 – Did you know Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn centers around King Hu’s Dragon Inn? – link
8/28/16 – “Considered by many to be the architect of wuxia cinema, King Hu was to martial arts was John Ford was to the western.” James Marsh, Screen Anarchy – link
9/1/16 – “Warning: There’s a very real danger that after you watch the dazzling 4K restoration of this 1967 Taiwanese martial-arts classic, you’ll never again be able to champion scratchy grindhouse prints with cheesy dubs.” Luke Y. Thompson, Village Voice – link