Dragon Inn | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Dragon Inn 

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When the patriotic legend of Dragon Inn was filmed in 1966 by King Hu, a classicist of the martial-arts genre, the focus was on moral rectitude as expressed through proper fighting etiquette. In this remake, shot in China and directed by Raymond Lee but obviously supervised by producer Tsui Hark, the isolated desert outpost is at once a nest of intrigues and an anarchic playground. The tale's antagonists--supporters of a Ming dynasty official and the henchmen of an evil eunuch--all end up at the hostel where they try to outmaneuver one another with acrobatic stunts that turn them into whirling dervishes and flying bats. Through hyperkinetic editing (Tsui's trademark) and distorted camera angles, Tsui and Lee turn the tug-of-war into a series of dazzling, at times comically grotesque and violent balletic moves--underscoring the absurdity of physical prowess in the absence of a code of ethics. There is plenty of macabre humor to liven the proceedings, including the kittenish innkeeper's barrage of sexual innuendos. Yet oddly, but typically for Tsui, the love triangle--between a loyal swordsman (Tony Leung of The Lover), his girlfriend in a man's disguise (Lin Hsing-Hsia), and the innkeeper (Maggie Cheung)--is played almost as an afterthought. With this film the Hong Kong auteur Tsui has once again come up with a narrative tone and visual strategy to match the island colony's giddy populism, existential mood, and latent nationalism. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, March 13, 6:00, and Sunday, March 14, 2:00, 443-3737)

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