Goodbye, Dragon Inn

Director: Tsai Ming-liang
Taiwan / 2003 / 82 min
In Mandarin and Taiwanese with English subtitles

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Like the Royal Theater in The Last Picture Show and the title movie house in Cinema Paradiso, the Fu-Ho is shutting down for good. A palace with seemingly mile-wide rows of red velvet seats, the likes of which you’ve seen only in your most nostalgic dreams (though they’re beginning to fray), the Fu-Ho’s valedictory screening is King Hu’s 1967 wuxia epic Dragon Inn, playing to a motley smattering of spectators. The standard grievances persist: patrons snack noisily and remove their shoes, treating this temple of cinema like their living room, but as we watch the enveloping film deep into a pandemic, the sense that moviegoing as a communal experience is slipping away takes on a powerful and painful resonance. Yet Goodbye, Dragon Inn, released nearly two decades ago by the internationally acclaimed Tsai Ming-liang (whose latest, Days, premiered at this year’s Berlinale), is too multifaceted to collapse into a simple valentine to the age of pre-VOD cinephilia. A minimalist where King Hu was a maximalist, preferring long, static shots and sparse use of dialogue, Tsai rises to the narrative challenges he sets for himself and offers the slyest, most delicate of character arcs (the manager, a woman with an iron brace on her leg, embarks on a torturous odyssey to deliver food to the projectionist, played by Lee Kang-sheng). By the time the possibility arises that the theater is haunted, we’ve already identified it as a space outside of time—indeed, two stars of Hu’s original opus, Miao Tien and Shih Chun, watch their younger selves with tears in their eyes, past and present commingling harmoniously and poignantly. A Metrograph Pictures release.