Sunday, April 10, 2011

Goodbye Dragon Inn

Goodbye Dragon takes place in a historic, but forgotten Chinese cinema as it shows its final film before darkening its screens forever. In front of only a short handful of viewers, the film being shown on this last night is the 1966 King Hu classic Dragon Inn.

It is very difficult to write any kind of review for this film. There are so many aspects that need to be taken into consideration when giving any kind of opinion. The writing the acting the plot the story, character development, narrative, music, and so on. The problem is, this film has almost none of this. Goodbye Dragon Inn is almost a silent film, though a silent film tells its story though its actions. When you watch this film, you see hardly any action, people hardly even move. There is almost no dialogue, no music, and is essentially telling no real story.

Now you may read this and think right away that Goodbye Dragon in is not a good film. That I am afraid, is not so easy to conclude. Though all the key elements of a film are missing, Goodbye Dragon Inn does something else. It somehow manages to capture your attention, and keep you watching. Maybe it’s the five or ten minute still shots that you cannot take your eyes off of simply because you haven’t a clue where it is exactly going.

For example there is a fairly lengthy scene showing the lonely Ticket Taker (Shiang-chyi Chen) heating up food in her booth. She then gets up with a portion of the snack, and walks with a handicap limp down a series of long corridors, up a few levels of stairs, through a door and up a ladder. When she finally arrives to her destination, near the projection room. She leaves the food, and then turns to head back to her booth. End scene. Maybe it’s the scene in the men’s washroom, we see one of the other few characters in the film, an also lonely looking Japanese tourist (Kiyonobu Mitamura) going to the bathroom. There is a pack of cigarettes on the stall that we see to the right of the screen. The scene continues on for maybe five minutes until a man enters the washroom, walks over to the stall and reclaims his cigarettes. End Scene.

The entire film, all 82 minutes of it, is made up of long still shots. Not once do we see a camera move until the angle is changed. Believe it or not, this is part of its wonderful charm.

There is not a clear story to Goodbye Dragon in, but it is trying to tell us something. Though it is not absolutely clear, it seems the film is trying to portray the status of modern cinema. Showing us a theatre that at one time was a prosperous place, alive and full of life. Now it is merely an empty shell that on a nightly basis works to entertain a small few who come to escape their busy life.

One of the most effective elements of what the film offers is its sound, or lack their of. The film itself uses the movie being show in the theatre, “Goodbye Dragon Inn” as both its sound, and music. Except for the occasional off beat echo of the Ticket Girl’s limp. And a few short lines shared by the small cast, the only thing you here is Dragon Inn in the background. Though that is not always the case, sometimes in certain parts of the theatre you may hear nothing at all except the calm rain outside the theatre.

Goodbye Dragon Inn may not be for everyone, it takes a certain taste to enjoy what is being offered to you. It’s a soft, and eerie film. It’s a sweet and gentle film, and above all it’s a tender and sad story of a life once lived, a life shared by thousands of movie goers for generations. The theatre is the main character in the film, and like other films, when you see the main character in his or her last moments you feel sadness for that character. This is no exception. The film ends with the ticket girl leaving the theatre for the last time, walking away hidden under her umbrella. Behind her you see the dark theatre and suddenly you can’t help but imagine this theatre in its prime, then you feel as though you have just witness the death of an important character in the film. All you can do is feel sadness and loss. End scene.

A Film By: Ming-liang Tsai


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