The thing about New Dragon Inn is, I really don’t care all that much for the movie or its ridiculous plot. Still, I can’t bring myself to completely dislike it, if only for the appearance of Brigitte Lin as Mo Yan, a female warrior who is the real heart of the movie. Without Lin’s character, the entire movie is a waste of time. What’s worst, it’s a waste of time that gives me deja vu, since I’ve wasted countless hours watching similar films that were similar wastes of time.
To understand New Dragon Inn you have to take into consideration that this movie was made in 1992, during a time when Hong Kong was cranking out movies by the hundreds to keep up with demand domestically and overseas. Period action movies like these were a dime a dozen, much like the dime novels of the Wild Wild West. They were cheap knock-offs of each other and very little care or handling or TLC went into them. The action is very generic, with swirling swords, swirling people wielding the swirling swords — re: the kind of action that keeps stunt people employed. If you listen closely, you’ll even discover that much of the sound effects are recycled over and over, and that the filmmakers don’t even bother to foley their own new sounds. In movies like these, screenplays were written for the benefit of actors who hadn’t signed on yet and everything else was made up as the filming progressed. The result is a mishmash of comedy, action, bloodletting, and a lot of contrived situations.
New Dragon Inn, supposedly a remake of an earlier movie titled just Dragon Inn (made in the ’60s, I believe), is one of many Hong Kong cookie-cutter films that you’ll find at your local corner Asian video store. It would be a total waste of time if not for the presence of Brigitte Lin, who manages to force me to give the film a second star.
The movie’s plot concerns a “Eunuch Emperor” (don’t ask, I have no idea what this means) who is not actually an Emperor, but has gathered the powers of one and openly defies the real emperor, who is far away somewhere. The Fake Emperor (played by Donnie Yen) is determined to keep his power by wiping out all of his competition. He kills a magistrate, and then attempts to kill the magistrate’s general, played by Tony Leung, by using the magistrate’s children as bait. But Leung has friends, led by his lover Mo Yan (Brigitte Lin), who rescues the children with help from some mercenaries. The group escapes and is supposed to meet up with Leung at the Dragon Inn of the title. They arrive at the inn, which is run by a vixen name Jin (Maggie Cheung) who actually runs a group of bandits and is using the inn as a way of robbing her guests. Not soon after, Yen’s henchmen arrives at the inn and prevents Leung and Mo Yan from leaving with the magistrate’s children, although they just want Leung dead.
After this point, things crumble like the poorly constructed film that New Dragon Inn is, and one sitcom-like situation flows into another pointless sitcom-like situation. The worst aspect of New Dragon Inn is its utterly ridiculous plot contrivances. Take, for example, the efforts of Yen’s henchmen to kill Leung. They know who Leung is, and he knows they know, but instead of killing Leung and Mo Yan (who they heavily outnumber, by the way) the henchmen goes to great lengths to play idiotic games with the duo instead of launching an all-out assault. This goes on for two days and nights!
Leung, in turn, plays idiotic games with the henchmen and even gets involved with Jin, whose black heart has found a place for the handsome Leung. One thing leads to another and before you know it, Leung is marrying Jin in order to get her to show him a secret passageway out of the inn (huh?) thereby breaking Mo Yan’s heart. Even worst, the henchman’s leader is doing the ceremony! (Yes, it’s as stupid as it sounds, folks.) When all the ridiculousness becomes too ridiculous for even the characters to stomach any longer (much less the audience, who has had to sit through the silly plot devices for the last hour and a half) the factions simply kill each other off. (Why, you may ask, didn’t they just do this in the first place? Well then the movie would be over, silly!)
Fake Emperor Yen finally arrives for the last 10 minutes of bloodletting, and the way he’s finally dispatched is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. (Wow, I’ve never used the word ‘ridiculous’ so many times in a review. This has to be some kind of record.)
The only saving grace in the movie is Brigitte Lin as Mo Yan. She gives a very good performance as the female warrior, who is strong outside but vulnerable inside. Her suffering under Leung’s idiotic plan to marry Jin takes the cake — it’s completely unnecessary and done for the express purpose of giving the audience yet another silly plot device. As the general, Leung lets his looks do the acting. Maggie Cheung, as Jin, is the most erratic of the three. She’s silly one moment, bloodthirsty the next. Oh, did I mention that her inn serves meat in the form of dead men she’s killed? Can you say, “Soylent Green is people?” That also sums up the comedy in this film. It’s some of the most awkward “comedy” I’ve seen in a while, but it fits in with the entire awkwardness of the whole Hong Kong period kung fu genre of the ’90s era, where massacres are immediately followed by fart jokes and vice versa.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, the filmmakers didn’t even have the decency to let the only likeable character in the whole movie live. Now that really gets my goat.
Raymond Lee (director) / Cheung Tan (screenplay)
CAST: Tony Leung Ka Fai …. Chow Wai-on
Brigitte Lin …. Yau Mo-yan
Maggie Cheung …. Jade King
Cheung-Yan Yuen …. Iron
Donnie Yen …. Tsao Siu Yan