When it comes to launching their new Blu-ray imprint, one of my favorite New York Rep houses, the Metrograph is starting off strong with a title that shows both a love of cinema and the urban culture that surrounds inner city theaters. I hate to use the phrase, but 2003’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn is definitely a film that’s more of a vibe than anything else. Taking place in the Fu-Ho Grand, a rundown film palace in Taipei on its closing night, the film chronicles the happenings, nearly in real time in its darkened corners during its valedictory screening. The mise en abyme is King Hu’s wuxia classic Dragon Inn, which unfurls to an audience that includes hustlers, the various stars of Dragon Inn in cameos, children and ghosts. Through the dream-like voyeuristic lens of Pen-Jung Liao, we follow each of our cast of characters throughout the screening as they try and find love, engage in some rough trade, or just enjoy a wholesome night out with Hu’s classic.
The closest thing we have to a protagonist is the lovelorn female ticket taker (Chen Shiang-chyi) who shuffles through the theater’s dark and damp halls in an iron leg brace, cleaning up, and eating her steamed bun on her lunch break. She and the nearly invisible projectionist kind of exist in this isolated purgatory, as opposed to the patrons, some of which spend the film breaching theater going social etiquette in an attempt to find some kind of personal connection during the screening. The film is very clear, even though it takes place in a cinema where they are all having this collective viewing, to highlight the singularness of the cinematic experience. It’s a strange dichotomy that perfectly illustrates how all cinephiles, while looking for some kind of connection to the events on the silver screen, are all just alone in the dark.
The Blu-ray features a new 4K restoration that preserves the dreariness of the color palette, while highlighting the ethereal and isolated landscapes that all exist inside of the Fu-Ho Grand. This all transpires with a new DTS-HD 5.1 mix that really works to keep the home viewer enveloped in the world of the film whether it be in the theater or walking the halls. Along with Goodbye, Dragon Inn, included is Tsai Ming-liang’s short film – Light, an intro by critic Nick Pinkerton and a commentary track by writer Phoebe Chen. Chen does a fantastic job unlocking the subtext of Dragon Inn and digging into the film’s many themes. It’s an informative discussion that I found both enlightening and all encompassing of the ways someone could dissect this film.
If you’ve never seen Goodbye, Dragon Inn and couldn’t make it to one of the theatrical screenings when this restoration was first unveiled, I can’t imagine a better way to experience it. Not only do you get the film, but you get some truly thoughtful discussions that really help to make the movie which maybe a bit obtuse to some, much more approachable and accessible. It’s a film that through us, watching these people watch this film, attempts and succeeds at telling this meta, bittersweet, minimalist story where so much is conveyed without uttering a single word for long stretches. Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a bold first statement by the theater turned distributor, that works as both a manifesto and high bar which genuinely makes me curious as to what film they will tackle next.