This is an all-star cast remake of King Hu’s 1967 classic “Dragon Inn”. The story is basically the same, but with a macabre, dark twist and a love triangle thrown in.
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Tsao Siu-yan is a powerful eunuch, the ruthless leader of the East Chamber, a security agency of the Ming Dynasty Emperor. The movie kicks off with him overseeing the butchering of some officers by his army. Yang is one of them being executed, meanwhile his two children are exiled and escorted to the desert border. This is actually Tsoa’s cunning plot to lure out Yang’s trusted general Chow Wai-on. However, it is Yau Mo-yan, a rebel swordswoman who rescues the children and guarding them across the desert to safety. Consequently, they take refuge in Dragon Gate Inn while waiting for Chow to join them. However, Tsao and his army are not far behind and this eventually accumulates in a crash between the rebels and the East Chamber. A big battle is ensured, but will those rebels survive the ordeal, and what is the fate of those poor children?
Donnie Yen really camps up his role as eunuch Tsao Siu-yan. However, he sort of disappears during the middle part of the movie, but reappears to engage in the unavoidable final fight at the end. Ironically, his face off is with three non-martial arts stars so don’t expect him to go all out doing hand to hand like in the Ip Man movies.
Tony Leung Kar-fai is terrific as Chow Wai-on, the rebel resistance fighter and he does look the part, casually riding a camel through the desert and proceeds on to save the day. The rebel swordswoman, Yau Mo-yan, who rescues the children, is played by Brigitte Lin, she’s actually Chow’s lover and this is where the movie adds the love interest aspect. Both of them have great, sexually charged chemistry and it’s a pleasure to watch them on the screen, even the parts when they hardly talk.
Maggie Cheung plays Jade, the tarty owner of Dragon Gate Inn who runs it as a ‘black inn’. She flirts, seduces her male customers and eventually kills them, before they end up in her kitchen and become part of the menu. This is the macabre element which is a total contrast to King Hu’s movie. However, Maggie is so good here that she absolutely steals the movie every time she’s on the screen. In fact, the best part of the movie is her duel with Brigitte’s character, Yau Mu-yan where they try to steal each other’s clothes. It is a witty confrontation with some light raunchiness and a delight to behold. Indecently, Tony, Maggie and Brigitte team up again in Wong Kar-wei’s “Ashes of Time” in 1994, another visually stunning wuxia movie.
The desert setting of “Dragon Gate Inn” is another big plus, the desert colours come into play to bring out the sense of remoteness and urgency. Tony Ching Siu-tung is the action choreographer; the action is fast and more of the acrobatic type rather than the hand to hand combat. However, he makes all the non-martial arts stars look good when they fight. Together with producer Tsui Hark, they have created a beautiful looking movie with break neck kinetic action.
“Dragon Gate Inn” is a fantasy wuxia tale about heroism, chivalry among resistance fighters, a movie full of beautiful visuals with an equally tense atmosphere. To top it off, it has plenty of witty dialogue, some well-placed dark humor and the acting from all cast members is hard to fault. Overall, a very entertaining movie and a must watch.