Monday, September 29, 2008

Dragon Gate Inn (1966)

(See bellow for time and location)

Dragon Gate Inn (1966)
aka Long men ke zhen

Taking place during the Ming Dynasty the film tells of the struggles between righteous heroes and corrupt government officials. More specifically a ruthless eunuch named Zho Ji (Pai Ying) falsely accuses a powerful but honest official named Yu Cian of capital crimes and then executes him in order to consolidate Yu’s power for himself. Weary of reprisals Cao orders a underling named Cao Shocin to intercept the officials two young children who at that time are being exiled to a boarder garrison in the desert. At the same time forces loyal to the now dead Yu are still about and making there own plans. Both sides eventually meet along with numerous enigmatic strangers at the isolated Dragon Gate Inn located along a lonely stretch of the Chinese frontier. Thus begins a series of deceptions and staling tactics, each side trying to achieve the optimal advantage before any open hostilities break out.

Dragon Gate Inn is one of the most important films by one of China’s greatest directors King Hu otherwise known as Hu Jinquan. Together with Come Drink With Me (1966), A Touch of Zen (1971), The Fate of Lee Kahn (1973) and The Valiant Ones (1975) Dragon Gate Inn revolutionized and modernized the Chinese Wu Xia Genre in effectively the span of less then a decade.

King Hu came to Hong Kong to further his education shortly before the end of the Chinese Civil War during the late 1940's. Due to the chaos and the fact that Hu had engaged in many political activities that would be viewed as radical by the communists he was forced to make Hong Kong his home for some time. Having a great deal of interest in the arts Hu eventually followed his close friend Li Han-Hsiang into the film industry eventually ending up at the Shaw Brothers Studio where Li would later go on to considerable fame as a director.

Hu worked in a number of positions including scriptwriter and actor among others. Eventually he came to direct a series of dramas such as Sons of the Good Earth (1965) before making the film that would change his career forever, Come Drink With Me (1966). It was a Wu Xia film the likes of which had not been seen before. He used new and innovative technics of cinematography to shape and control the action, inventive uses of sound to influence the flow of the film. These factors mixed with a more complex plot then was average for the genre at this time, created something groundbreaking.

A short time after this King Hu left Shaw Brothers for a much smaller Taiwanese production company called Union. This was mainly do to his dislike of the restrictions of the studio system that ruled the Shaw Borhers studio. At this point he started work on Dragon Gate Inn. Given his recent Shaw experience coupled with his new found freedom he was able to experiment with the look and feel of his films more then ever before. His bold experiments with flying angles, more complex wirework and use of sound insured the films future influence on the genre would be strong.

Like Come Drink With Me before it Dragon Gate Inn was infused with allegory, be it social or political. This would come to be one of King Hu’s principal trademarks and would only increase as time went on. In Dragon Gate Inn much of the influence comes from the mainland governments oppression of noted intellectuals and intellectual freedom in general, which included individuals Hu knew personally. The allegory for this issue comes in the form of the oppressive and corrupt Dong Chang or as it would loosely translate into English as the Eastern Workshop or Eastern Chamber. This was a real internal intelligence organization that existed during the Ming dynasty. The Dong Chang and the eunuchs that ran it have come to be frequently used in later Wu Xia films as prominent villains in Ming era settings. Hu himself would later go on to use them as characters and plot points in several of his later films.

Beyond its own merit, Dragon Gate Inn is also noteworthy as a proving ground for the technics that would later be utilized in Hu's next feature length film that many people consider his greatest masterpiece A Touch of Zen. Before this however he participated in a anthology titled Four Moods (1970) for which he spawned another short Wu Xia tale.

Dragon Gate Inn is also known as the second instalment in what has come to be known as King Hu’s Inn Trilogy or Inn Films which started with Come Drink With Me then Dragon Inn and finally The Fate of Lee Kahn. They share several similarities. Each of them takes place at an Inn, which was otherwise a very common setting for Wu Xia fiction. Each involves allegorical messages and each was particularly innovative for its time.

Years latter director Tsui Hark would pen a script for a 1992 remake entitled New Dragon Gate Inn or Dragon Inn for short, which was directed by Raymond Lee. This film was very much in the vein of a late new wave Hong Kong Wu Xia film, making its look and feel very distinctly from the original. Despite this it was something of an important and successful film in its own right.

In 2003 a controversial Taiwanese art film entitled Goodbye Dragon Inn actually featured the 1966 version as part of its story. The film revolves around the final screening at a aging Taiwanese movie theater that is about to be demolished. The film that is being screened is of corse Dragon Gate Inn. Other then the segments and background dialog from Dragon Gate Inn heard during the film there is almost no dialog and just features the characters interacting with each other to varying extent. Shih Jun who also plays swordsman Xiao Shao-Zi one of the principal characters in the 1966 film is one of the viewers at the theater and is seen watching his younger self repeatedly. Very likely he is playing himself in this film and this interaction is used as symbolism.

Taiwan, Director King Hu, Cast Polly Kuan, Hsu Feng, Shih Jun, Pai Ying, Tin Peng, Cho Kin, Go Ming, Got Siu-Bo, Ko Fei, Han Ying-Chieh, Man Chung San, Miu Tin, Sit Hon, 111 Mins
Time & Location: October 2nd, 6:30PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford).

Welcome to the first blog entry of the Asian Film Series

Welcome to first blog entry of the Asian Film Series at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and hosted by the Center for International Education. This blog will contain further information regarding the films to be screened as well as times and dates. It will also function as a forum to let those interested suggest future films and comment about the series.

The Goal of this series is to expose students and those in the community to a diverse range of Asian films many of which are little known in the United States. All screenings are free and open to students and non-student alike.

The screenings will be held on Thursdays in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford) typically at 6:30PM. The times and date will also be listed with the individual blog entry.

The series is hosted by the Center for International Education, but is not directly connected with the Center or the University and does not necessarily represent the views of either