Plot: What’s it about?
In the midst of the Ming Dynasty, a lot of power is within reach to many men, but rebellion within smaller clans prevents the power from being taken, at least most of the time. Tsao Siu Yan (Donnie Yen) is a man who wants more power than he can handle, but unlike most of those seeking their own kingdoms, this leader has a plan that just might work. He assembles a band of underhanded rebels to form his East Chamber, which is the center of his plan for massive power attainment. But even with these warriors, his path to ruling China will not be unopposed, as another group of rebels is also on the scene, but these guys want to shut down Tsao before he even gets close. As time passes and the two factions clash time and again, it is certain that at some point, there will be a final showdown, but that time is soon, sooner than either side expects. The epic battle to the close takes place in the desert at the Dragon Inn, but which side will prevail when the dust clears and the fighters pick themselves off the ground?
I love a good martial arts flick and even with some flaws, Dragon Inn proves to be a terrific movie and a lot of fun to watch. This one was produced by Tsui Hark and stars such workers as Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung, and Tony Leung, all of whom seem in fine form here. Of course, you’ll see some very cool fight sequences, but Dragon Inn also offers some stunning visuals, from location work to costumes to shot composition. This is due to a skilled crew and also to a good budget, which allows for elaborate set pieces that the crew can use to effective ends. The adequate budget is obvious here, as the production values look excellent and really allow for a wider scope, which is needed in a flick like this one. But the real focus will be on the action, which is in full force in Dragon Inn, although sometimes too many fighters lessen the impressions. I like fights with a lot of people, but the massive brawls here sometimes seem confusing, as the cameras never seem to cover enough of the battles. But most of the fights are well done and pack a mean punch, so I think action fans will be pleased here. This disc is as good as region one is gonna see, but I do want to mention that region two has a Hong Kong Legends release that tops this one in all respects. Even so, this release is very recommended to fans of martial arts action flicks, so if you’re interested, be sure to give Dragon Inn a spin.
I liked all the performances in Dragon Inn, so I can’t narrow down my focus to one turn, which leaves me to discuss three of them here. First up is Tony Leung (Island of Fire, A Better Tomorrow III), who turns in a solid effort here and adds a lot to the film as a whole. Leung’s experience shows in Dragon Inn, as he seems to surface as the anchor or center of the cast, very impressive work. Even with a lot of other gifted workers around him, Leung more than gets himself noticed and does so without taking away from the other actors. Also in fine form is Maggie Cheung (In The Mood For Love, The Heroic Trio), who brings a powerful female presence to Dragon Inn and often commands the screen. I hold Cheung among the better female workers in Asian cinema, as she really works both dialogue and action driven scenes to superb ends. The third performance I wanted to mention comes from Donnie Yen (Highlander: Endgame, Iron Monkey), who continues to impress me with his work. The cast of Dragon Inn also includes Lawrence Ng (The Peace Hotel, Evil Black Magic), Yuen Cheung-Yan (Fist of Legend, Once Upon A Time In China), and Brigitte Lin (Chungking Express, Peking Opera Blues).
Video: How does it look?
Dragon Inn is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, which is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. If you’ve seen a lot of these Asian flicks, then you won’t be let down here, but as usual for these movies, this transfer shows some problems. The source print looks good, but still shows some signs of wear and damage, much more than American films of the same age range. But given the circumstances of storage and preservation involved (i.e. none), I think Dragon Inn looks solid here and that’s all I had expected. The colors and contrast are stable however, so aside from the print issues, this is a nice, but flawed presentation.
Audio: How does it sound?
This disc includes three audio options, mono tracks in Mandarin & Cantonese, as well as a stereo track in English. As usual, the English option has poor voice talent involved, but if you can’t handle subtitles, it is better than most dubbed choices. As far as technical performance, I found the English option to be very limited, even more than the simple mono tracks in fact. None of the tracks have much range or punch, but I suppose given the format limits involve, it all turns out decent enough in the end. So don’t expect an over the top audio experience, but these tracks sound good enough, so I won’t knock the score much. This disc also includes optional English subtitles, in case you’ll be needing them here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes fifteen minutes of added footage, but I am unsure if it is listed as a director’s cut or not. The added time is inserted back to the movie itself, so don’t strain yourself looking for deleted scenes, as you won’t find them on this disc. You can also view the film’s theatrical trailers (English & Chinese versions) and some talent files, but the real bonus is an audio commentary track with Ric Myers. As an expert in Hong Kong cinema, Myers has a lot to contribute to this track and in the end, I think even casual martial arts film fans will want to give this one a listen, very cool indeed.