Thursday, 21 January 2021

Goodbye, Dragon Inn

Dragging On

Goodbye Dragon Inn
Taiwan 2003 Directed by Ming-liang Tsai
Second Sigh Blu Ray Zone B

Okay... now I can only repeat the ‘plot’ synopsis when I say that Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a film about the very last performance at a cinema. I say that under advisement because, at no time while I was watching this sometimes hypnotic movie was it made clear to me, in any shape or form, that this was supposed to be the final night for the venue. For me, it looked like it was just the last showing at a cinema of any given day and I can only assume that, if this is indeed the case, we would have really needed a subtitle to tell the English audience this because, I’m guessing that detail may well be hidden on a poster on the front of the cinema?

I don’t know but, either way, it’s one of those marvellous films where nothing much happens... or, at least, nothing significant would be perceived to happen by certain kinds of audiences, I would guess. Personally, I think plenty happens... you see a cleaning lady pick up bits of rubbish from the floor for instance... or you see a girl munching on peanuts. So things do happen in the film, for sure... no matter how mundane.

There seem to be three ‘plot’ strands to the film... one following the cleaner/ticket taker going about her business in the cinema while the classic movie Dragon Inn (reviewed here) plays out, in something less than real time. Another strand follows someone who seems to be a gay man ‘cruising’ the customers for someone willing to sleep with him but... I don’t know, I didn’t really understand that stuff at all because everyone involved just seemed hesitant to make anything they are after known and it all just seemed really timid to me. The third, lets call it a ‘point of interest’, is of two of the actors from the original film Dragon Inn sitting in the audience watching it. At the end, as they leave the cinema while we watch the cleaning lady do her rounds and clean the toilets while the projectionist shuts up the building for the evening (or perhaps forever, who knows?), they recognise each other and exchange a couple of lines. That’s about half the original dialogue in the movie there... there’s maybe three or four sentences uttered throughout the entire film although, the claims that the movie has hardly any dialogue also seems to me to be a bit off, since we can hear the dialogue from Dragon Inn playing on the screen for at least a third of the shots.

The film is slowly and deliberately paced and, I guess if you’re only used to certain kinds of film-making then you might be of the opinion that it tends to drag on but, honestly, I felt the pacing was fine on it and I can only assume that half the reviews I quickly scanned on the IMDB, which were polar opposites on the spectrum (it’s a Marmite movie, if you will), were written by movie watchers who have only been fed a strict diet of Hollywood action movies over the years.

Gooodbye, Dragon Inn is totally put together with static shots which the director will hold for long periods of time, allowing actors and animals to walk in or out of a frame at their own pace. For instance, once the film being screened finishes, there is a static shot from the front of the auditorium as we watch the cleaning lady slowly go up and down the aisles cleaning up after the customers before exiting stage left... the static shot with no motion in it is then held for another few minutes or so without interruption (yes, I did check my Blu Ray player to see if it had accidentally frozen the picture).

Sometimes Tsai will give a certain sense of adventurousness to a shot by loading it with depth. For instance, in one shot where the limping, cleaning lady walks onto the screen from behind the camera somewhere, she goes to a door in the top right of the frame, opens it and then leaves it open as she carries on walking to the end of the room she just entered, exiting that room by a similar door in that room in the same area of the screen... the depth of the shot opening out as doors are open like a set of Russian dolls.

The director tends to use extreme vertical framing against different planes within a shot, a bit like in a giallo and, also like in that particular genre of predominantly Italian cinema, he creates more verticals by lighting a lot of the shots with big, bold blocks of colour. That boldness is seriously and, presumably quite deliberately, undercut by the subdued and pastel nature of the blues, greens and pinks which are being pitched against each other (I have to wonder what this film would have looked like if this director had chosen to light and shoot it for black and white film stock).

One interesting moment comes from the multiple musical stings I mentioned in my previous review, which were used to highlight the entrance of various fighting opponents in the film Dragon Inn. At this moment in the original film being projected (which is compressed in time compared to the slowed down temporal mechanics implied by the visuals), the cleaning lady is watching from behind the screen. We see the girl in the original film and then, as each musical sting comes, instead of cutting back to each appearing villain and then back to her, we cut to the face of the cleaning lady and back to her. I’m not sure what the director was trying to achieve with this use of metatextual editing here but, it made me smile at least (and perhaps that was the point).

And there you have it. No music is used in Goodbye, Dragon Inn save for the cues on the soundtrack from Dragon Inn itself, often and obviously playing against the slower shots of the housing film, in stark contrast to the shots with which they are visually juxtaposed. And, while nothing significant happens, you get the feeling that all the humans who populate the movie are wretched and cursed, driftwood from a sunken ship in the flow of life that has been discarded or just plain forgotten. It’s a film which says everything about these people while showing absolutely nothing about them so, if you’re interested in the way the content of a shot and the performance alone can influence the senses as opposed to the use of quick edits (which this is mostly bereft of apart from the musical stinger scene I describe above) or dynamic camera movements, then maybe this film is for you. Personally I found it quite mesmerising in places while other things... like showing a full house at the start and then, when we return to the auditorium after a few minutes have elapsed, showing it bereft of all but a few customers... I didn’t quite understand at all. Definitely an interesting meditation piece though and, one I will probably take another look at some day. 

No comments:

Post a Comment