“Did you know this theater is haunted?” Those are the first words ever spoken in this film by one of the main characters. However, you won’t hear those words spoken until you’re about forty-five minutes into watching Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003). It appears that this film serves as a homage to classic films and the love of going to the movie theaters to watch them. The entire film is centered around a group of people who visit a neighborhood art house movie theater in China. Some of the people work for the movie theater, while others are visiting to watch the classic martial arts film Dragon Inn (1966). Very few words are spoken between the characters at the movie theater during the eighty minute run of the film, and most of the words that you do hear are emanating from the theater screen.
Within the entire film there are only two conversations that are spoken between the characters. For the remainder of the film we bear witness to the behaviors of the characters as some of them attempt to peacefully watch a movie, or to earn a paycheck from the theater owner. The structure of Goodbye, Dragon Inn is based upon the notion that you (the real life viewer) are sitting at home (or in a movie theater) watching others (the fictitious characters) sit in a movie theater watching a martial arts movie. It’s eavesdropping at its finest. However, you don’t feel guilty about watching other people, because you maybe overwhelmed by your connection with some of the on screen characters. You could relate with some of the annoyances that the characters in the fictitious movie theater are experiencing. It’s a struggle for us to watch a movie in a public place and feel comfortable enough to let our guard down in a dark room for a couple of hours.
One of the characters clearly shows his uncomfortable feelings with being surrounded by the other movie goers when they are sitting rather closely with each other in an empty theater that can hold several hundred people. In one particular moment there is a women sitting in the row behind him with her bare feet resting on top of the seat right next to him. This shocks him at first, but it turns into a nuisance as time goes on. For several minutes now he has been starring at the guy with a familiar face sitting in front of him. He would like to ask the guy in front of him to light the cigarette that he wants to smoke, but is afraid to ask. The cigarette is a ploy for him to find out if the familiar face is someone he actually knows. He keeps glancing back and forth between the bare feet that is resting near his head and then down at the person sitting in the row in front of him. During this awkward moment another individual walks up and sits in the seat right next to him. Now the guy is blockaded on every side and you could see his faced strained with the uncomfortable feeling of having no buffer of personal space around him.
Martial arts veterans Chun Shih and Tien Miao make a cameo appearance in this film. One of the guys was the “familiar face” that I had described just a moment ago. These two guys are the actors that appear in the film Dragon Inn that is being played on the screen in this movie. Having them appear in Goodbye, Dragon Inn was designed as a exciting homage to the world of cinema. While in the movie theater they recognize each other from across the several rows of theater seats that separate them, but neither of the pair says a word to the other. They nod to each other in a form of recognition before redirecting their glances to the big screen. It’s not until an hour and eight minutes or so into the movie that the pair walk out of the theater and strike up a conversation. The two veteran martial arts actors talk about the good times when people had actually gone to see the movies they starred in. This marks the second conversation in the movie that takes place between some of the main characters.
Goodbye, Dragon Inn has its share of highs and lows that could scare off a lot of potential American viewers. The primary reasons why several people would skip over this film would include…
- It’s spoken in a foreign language (Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese).
- There is very little dialogue that occurs between the characters.
- There are a lot of lengthy camera shots with very little editing involved.
- No CGI graphics, pyrotechnic explosions, or action sequences.
- No sexual interactions or tension between the characters.
I’m sure there is a reader out there who is going this review and wondering if there is anything worthwhile about the film that would be entertaining to watch. With all the standard issue commercial aspects of a Hollywood film being removed from the story of Goodbye, Dragon Inn then there can’t be much left over to hold the viewer’s dwindling attention span. Well, let me include a couple of positive things that I’ve enjoyed about the film.
- The subtle humor involving the movie theater experience.
- The sentimental feeling of nostalgia when recalling memories of visiting your favorite childhood movie theater to watch an entertaining film.
- A welcomed change of pace from our American movies that are inundated with fast pace action films that heavily rely on action sequences for support.
- The film may be set at a slower pace, but it does not creep the viewer out with weirdo characters or a bizarre plot line.
I would only recommend this film to other people who are looking for a film that offers a change of pace or a different perspective than what is currently available at the movie theaters. My interpretation of the film’s purpose was to invoke a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality among those who watch it. Nothing more, and nothing less. Since the dialogue has been kept to an absolute minimum the viewer is provoked to interpret the behavior and actions of the characters on the screen. It’s an opportunity for you to insert your own dialogue into the film’s story and create your own reasoning why the characters are responding to their surroundings accordingly. My final rating for this film concludes with a seven out of ten possible review points.
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