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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.
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.
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.