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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Dragon Inn (1967)


Starring: Lingfeng Shangguan, Chun Shih, Ying Bai and Chien Tsao
Distributor: Eureka!
RRP: £17.99 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
5 06000070 169 2
Certificate: TBC
Release Date: 26 October 2015

In 1457, during the eighth year of the jingtai dynasty, the eunuchs took power in the palace, creating two espionage agencies. In order to secure his own power base Tsao Shao-chin, the eunuch in charge of the Eastern Agency, denounces and executes Minister of Defence Wu Chien, condemning his children to exile. Aware that they may come back some day for revenge, he dispatches some of his most vicious killers to the Dragon Inn, to head off and kill them...

Dragon Inn (1967. 1 hr, 51 min, 12 sec) is a classic martial arts film, written and directed by King Hu. This was the fifth film he had made to date and was the first film he made in Taiwan after leaving the Shaw Brothers. The film won the 1968 Golden Horse Film Festival for best screenplay.

There is a lot of set up to get through for a fairly straight forward action film, but Hu’s direction means that the audience rarely gets lost.

Tsao Shao-chin (Bai Ying) sends his best sword, Pi Hsiao-tang (Miao Tien) after Wu’s fleeting children, as they are on foot and he is faster on horseback he takes his men ahead to ambush them at the Dragon Inn. Taking over the place they insist that no more guests be admitted, but others start to arrive.

First to arrive is Wu Ning (Cho Kin) who is seemingly just a passing friend of the inn keeper, but is very handy in a fight and apparently impervious to poisoning. Next to arrive are the Chu brother and sister (Polly Shang-kuan and Hsieh Han) both of who are also surprisingly handy in a fight. Eventually, the inn keeper Wu Ning (Cho Kin) returns. He has been waiting to aid the Wu Chien’s fleeing children.

One of the things which set this film above its competitors, and many in the martial art genre, is its focus on being stylistically realistic. There is the occasional flying vault, but for the most part the sword fights look a lot like you would think they would, with combatants attacking each other with more desperation than finesse.

All that sword waving looked to be dangerous, so there is the presumption that they are either blunt or fake, so the director makes sure that there is a close to camera slicing through grass in the middle of a duel. Ok, it might have been the only real shot, but it lends the rest of the action a great deal of credibility.

The action is only a part of the film and I would argue the lesser part. When the cast aren’t actually fighting they spend a lot of time thinking about it. In these scenes Hu is able to rack up the tension. Much of these parts of the film would not have felt out of place in a spaghetti western.

Ok, so this is a film released before production thought about extras, but the DVD does come with a few. There is the premiere newsreel (B&W 1 min, 45 sec), old footage detailing the film’s success at the box office. David Cairns (15 min. 20 sec) presents an informative critique of the film. Lastly you get the trailer (1 min, 53 sec).

You can play the film with or without English subtitles. The print has been fully restored as part of the Chinese Taipei Film Archive restoration.

Hu is a master film maker, so the film has held up well and remains an important film in both its genre and the birth of the Taiwanese film industry.


Charles Packer

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