Dragon Inn (HK 1992)

Rating: ****
Producer: Tsui Hark
Director: Raymond Lee
Martial Arts Director: Ching Siu Tung
Cast: Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung (Ka Fai), Donnie Yen, Tsui Kam Long, Lawrence Ng, Xin Xin Xiong, Yuen Cheung Yan

A fantastic remake of King Hu's epic swordplay drama "Dragon Gate Inn" (1966). Tsao (Donnie Yen) is an ambitious eunuch who rules over the brutal and ruthless Eastern Chamber and yearns to overthrow the emperor. After executing an opposing official named Yang, all that's left is to destroy Yang's followers as well, who are led by the charismatic Chow Wai-On (Tony Leung). After a daring rescue of Yang's children, Chow and his lover Mo-Yin (stoic Brigitte Lin) rendezvous at the seedy and notorious Dragon Inn, run by the cunning and seductive Jade (bitchy Maggie Cheung). Trapped in the inn by Jade, Tsao's troops, and bad weather, a tense drama plays out as the heroes desperately try to escape.

While the basic story elements are left untouched, the film has much more in common with "The Fate Of Lee Khan" (1972) than it does with the source material. The painstaking schemes of deception and saving face are so completely inexplicable that the tension is guaranteed to drive you mad. Hark also makes sure that the audience always knows what's going on, whereas the original was far more subtle and confusing. Hark also spends a lot more time on character development, so the overall experience is much richer.

"Dragon Inn" is beautifully filmed, with an all-star cast and an excellent music score. The acting is suberb and the swordplay is fantastic. The story is an expertly crafted and intricately woven tale of honor, loyalty, deception, and betrayal, and the desert setting serves to reflect the desolation and impending doom of all the players. The only thing that spoils the film is the incredible final fight scene in the desert against Donnie Yen which goes from exhilarating to preposterous (but not nearly enough to ruin the film). A highly recommended film for anyone who appreciates the classic swordplay genre.