Review by Camden Ferrell
Tsai Ming-linag is a renowned director based in Taiwan and is considered one of the region’s most accomplished filmmakers. He has directed numerous features and short films in a career spanning across four different decades. One of his most well-received films, Goodbye, Dragon Inn, released in 2003, is receiving a 4K restoration and release as this calendar year closes. While the film is a sincere ode to the movie theater experience, its execution is slow and deliberate in a way that may put off potential viewers.
The Fu-Ho Grand is a movie palace in Taipei that is about to permanently shut their doors. In its final screening, the theater shows the 1967 wuxia film Dragon Inn. As the movie plays, we see the lives of an array of patrons and employees intersect. It’s a very simple premise that could serve as the foundation for thematic exploration and promising character interaction.
While it’s clear that the movie comes from a place of love, its execution leaves a lot to be desired. Its dialogue is absolutely minimal and while this makes sense for many characters given the setting, it doesn’t give the viewer much to latch onto. Even though all of the action on screen has a purpose, there’s nothing to supplement it, and the movie feels bloated as a result. The minimal action can only say so much, and when a large chunk of the film’s runtime is spent in these long takes, its message loses its impact. I think some more in-depth dialogue in the scenes outside the theater could have fleshed out these interesting characters in a more entertaining way.
The actors are fine throughout although there isn’t much for them to do outside of acting like themselves. Any characters with interesting arcs or backstories don’t do anything impressive and further contribute to the occasional hollowness that plagues the entire film. While the movie is short, I would have preferred a longer film that gave more depth and personality to its ensemble. Certain characters had really interesting roles that could have been expanded on and made the film feel more complete and rewarding.
The cast of characters include a ticket taker, a projectionist, an eccentric tourist, and also actors from the film being screened. Without revealing any details about these characters, each of them could have had engaging arcs that could have further cemented the film’s themes in a memorable and captivating way. However, the film is content with merely observing and trying to find beauty in its mundanity, gracing the audience with only a glimpse of genius every once in a while.
As mentioned before, Goodbye, Dragon Inn is an ode to the movie-going experience. It explains this sentiment perfectly, and the film is made with genuine passion, but it does it in a way that ultimately feels pretentious. This is unfortunate for a movie with a legitimately uplifting yet bittersweet sentiment that billions of people can relate to. It’s poetic, but it’s a poem that you’ll either love or feel indifferent towards.
Goodbye, Dragon Inn is available in select theaters and streaming through Metrograph December 31.