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This big hit at the Sundance Film Festival had audiences cheering. Set during the Ming Dynasty, this acclaimed production tells the story of a power hungry eunuch who employs an evil sect in his quest to rule China. An extravagant climax features dizzying acrobatics and masterful fight sequences. Written by
Towne 3, San Jose, Ca
I've got a thing for really weird movies that don't seem to try to be weird. It's not that I'm allergic to any kind of self-awareness--actively trying to make a crazy movie is a science of its own with its own merits--but it seems so much more "pure" when the planets just align and you're left scratching your head at something that was once intended to rope in relatively mainstream audiences. You'd expect a remake of a fairly classy old wuxia to be a little less nuts.
The first thing you'll notice is that there's no real rhyme or reason to this film's tone, with gruesomely comic violence, out-of-place black humor and nudityless strip tease nonsense interspersed with a level of melodrama that makes it all feel like a self-parody from time to time. A pervading disregard for human life (one protagonist kills and eats innocent people, and it's played for laughs) may offput western audiences, but it's an important part of the film's cultural context. That's exactly why it was scummy of US distributors to cut out the decapitation scenes in Iron Monkey, for example; while sentimentalism always ran high in movies like this, Hong Kong simply doesn't have the goodie-twoshoes morality and political correctness of Hollywood, and that's part of what made their movies tick. (Until they watered themselves down for American audiences after the inoffensive and tame Crouching Tiger made a huge splash, anyway.) For example, there's one absolutely idiotic plot device where the manipulative innkeeper demands that the protagonist sleep with her if he wants to know the inn's secret exit, despite the fact the guy's wife is also there. You'd expect his character to be hesitant, thus making him more sympathetic to the viewer, right? On the contrary, he expresses enthusiasm for the offer and it's seen as no big deal. After offscreen sexual commerce, his wife has a cry and then it's never really alluded to again. Jesus! Anyway, if anything, Dragon Inn deserves praise for getting us to (maybe) root for an adulterer, a cannibalistic murderer, and this promiscuous lady who considers selling out her friends for profit until the very end of the movie.
Serious plot holes emerge when the film begins to emphasize intrigue & sleuthing, and two opposing sides in the same hotel feign ignorance of each other (why?) while covertly sabre-rattling from time to time, but it's pretty clear it's more about the ride than the details, pulsing along blithely with strange alluring lyricism. The action's great in a fantasy sort of way, and it's beautifully filmed; the climax in the desert uses this soft camera lens, making the sun appear to be some fiery gibbous hole in the clouds, giving it all this dreamy, otherworldly look that suits the outlandish wirework. And just when you least expect grindhouse splatter violence... well, the final move will permanently imprint itself in your brain, whether it delights you or you think it the stupidest thing you've ever seen. That about sums the whole thing up. It's a flawed movie, you might love it, you might hate it, but it's not some bland crap you'll waffle on and give a 6 out of 10 if you're in your right mind.
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