Dragon Gate Inn (HK 1966)

Rating: **
Director: King Hu
Cast: Polly Shang Kwan, Chun Shih

King Hu's classic swordplay drama about the cruel East Chamber eunuch's attempts to wipe out the Yu family. Yu's children are being transported to the isolated Dragon Gate Inn, where the eunuch's forces lie in wait. Additionally, some friends of the Yu's are converging on Dragon Gate Inn in order to liberate the children, which sets the stage for a tense showdown.

Unfortunately, the whole thing comes off as a mess. While beautifully filmed and well acted, the continuity is shaky and the story is overly difficult to follow. Often times I was left scratching my head wondering how one scene led into the next, making me wonder if I was watching a severely edited version. Character development is nearly non-existent and dialog is sparse and subtle. The film prefers to advance the plot through action and body language, but unfortunately suffers from the tedious pacing that was popular at the time. The action scenes are a mixed bag. While the cinematography and editing are superb, the choreography is rather weak and the execution is awkward and sluggish. It's still better than today's super tight machine gun fight editing, though, since you can actually SEE what the players are doing and what effect their actions have. The music score is very traditional Chinese opera style music that's overly tinny and has an overly heavy emphasis on woodblocks. It's so painful to listen to that I had to turn the volume down for the majority of the film. If I remember correctly, this film awarded Taiwanese actress Polly Shang Kwan with a Golden Horse for best actress, which puzzles me because she doesn't really get to do much except look menacing. I wonder what that says about the state of female roles in the industry at the time?