Art House: New Dragon Gate Inn
When word got out a few years ago that Tsui Hark was directing a Dragon Inn remake (which was released in 2011 as Flying Swords of Dragon Gate), some Hong Kong film fans wondered why he would bother doing so since he had already produced a very respectable one in 1992's New Dragon Gate Inn.
Directed by Raymond Lee Wai-man (who also collaborated with Tsui on such films as 1990's Swordsman and 1993's Swordsman III: The East is Red), the fantasy drama, with its "new wave" swordplay, takes the basic story of King Hu's 1967 classic and adds elements such as cannibalism and a love triangle to spice things up. The original plot in Hu's film had heroic female and male fighters seeking to foil an imperial court's chief eunuch's bid to kill the children of a defeated high official.
In New Dragon Gate Inn, evil eunuch Tsao (Donnie Yen Ji-dan) also seeks to use the children to lure out their father's right-hand man, Chow Wai-on (Tony Leung Ka-fai). But in the film's first fight sequence, the leader of the rescuers turns out not to be Chow but his formidable sword-wielding lover, Yau Mo-yin (Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia, pictured). Only after they take refuge at a frontier inn run by "Jade King" (as Maggie Cheung Man-yuk's character is referred to in the English subtitles) does the film's nominal main man enter the fray.
Leung is cool and largely collected as Chow, and Yen's presence helped to make the film's wild climactic battle so very memorable. Still, this highly entertaining movie is powered much more by the performance of its two female stars — who, between them, received four out of the six best actress nominations at that year's Hong Kong Film Awards.
While Cheung won for her portrayal of Ruan Lingyu in Stanley Kwan Kam-pang's Centre-Stage, Lin is considered in many quarters to have delivered 1992's most iconic performance as transgender martial arts master Asia the Invincible in Swordsman II. That was another exciting 1990s martial arts fantasy work produced by Tsui — and directed by Dragon Inn's masterful primary action director, Tony Ching Siu-tung — in which the women outshone the men.
Both actresses' considerable dramatic, comic and physical acting prowess are well utilised in New Dragon Gate Inn, with more close-up shots highlighting their facial expressions than one usually sees in action movies. And having worked together twice before (in Jackie Chan's Police Story and Yim Ho's Red Dust), the two women again combine marvellously, with an amusing acrobatic striptease duel between their characters among the film's many visual highlights.
Since most of the action-filled offering takes place within the confines of the titular establishment, it's a big plus that the film's main set is so interesting and complex. At the same time, great use also is made of the movie's desert locations — whose spectacular, vast expanse helps confer on it the air of an epic, exotic Eastern Western.
New Dragon Gate Inn, November 8, 3.20pm, Broadway Cinematheque, Yau Ma Tei. Part ofthe Hong Kong Asian Film Festival