New Dragon Gate Inn was the first Hong Kong
film that I ever saw. I had heard a bit about films from the Orient
but had never seen many. Needless to say this film sparked a great interest.
This is a martial arts flick, as many HK films are. Produced in 1992 by Tsui Hark and directed by Li Hui Min, it covers some 90 minutes. The good thing is that these 90 minutes are well spent.
Tony Leung - Zhou Huain
Brigitte Lin - Qui Moyan
Maggie Chung - Jin Xiangyu
Donnie Yen - Cao Shao-qin
It was released with an 18 certificate.
Set in ancient China, New Dragon Gate Inn sets the scene with a familiar idea of arrogant and power-hungry officials undermining the Emperor's rule. The Dong Chang is one of these groups, run by eunuchs, and the most powerful in the country. Cao Shao-qin heads the group, executing anyone who gets in his way.
After killing the defence minister, he tries to lure his last opponent, Zhou Huain, into a trap by announcing that the minister's two surviving children are to be killed. However, perhaps sensing a trap, he sends a group of men led by his lover, Qui Moyan, to rescue the children.
The group meet up in an inn run by Jin Xiangyu, near the Dragon Gate Pass. They must pass through the pass if they are to escape. But Cao sends a group of his eunuchs after the valiant warriors, posing as tradesmen. The scene is now set for a series of fights at night and an epic finale between Cao and Zhou, Qui and Jin!
Why I like this film
The fighting scenes are extremely well choreographed with excellent music. Whereas in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where people imitate Superman flying into the air, the characters actually tense their muscles and jump, while still performing incredible acts of agility. The sense of reality is continued by the fact that no one can simply deflect or dodge a hail of arrows - they get injured! Though I could spend pages attempting to describe all the various scenes, I could not do the film justice. One of the more amusing parts, is where Qui and Jin fight in the bathroom.
When Jin comments that Qui has a nice body, as she has been taking a bath, Qui promptly dives towards Jin and takes off her blouse! An act of aerobatics ensues as each tries to get the other naked. Qui wins hands down, taking the last of Jin's clothes as she jumps up through an opening in the roof, left completely naked in the cold. Great stuff!
Following on from this, the films has no real nudity involved. Despite being an 18, we never see the breasts and/or crotch displayed. Though this is a small matter, sexual activities are sometimes an unnecessary addition to such films. And the absence of this diminishes the film in no way. What we do see, is a tender romance between Zhou and Qui. Despite Jin's advances towards Zhou, he never gives up his love for Qui.
The acting is quite good. The eunuchs are sufficiently sinister without seeming ridiculous. Though we do not see much of him, Donnie Yen gives a masterful performance as the arch-villian. All of the main characters give smooth performances and though there is little that I could pay tribute to here, it does ensure that the film is not little more than fight scenes with poor acting to fill the gaps.
There is also a small amount of tasteful humour and intelligent camera-work. When Qui enters the inn, dressed as a man, the camera focuses on Jin, who we imagine immediately recognises Qui's real sex. Then the camera moves back to Qui - the two women size the "competition" up. A little later, when Zhou enters and walks past Jin, one of the staff says to Jin,
"Hey is that a woman?"
"How can you be so sure?" she asks
"Well, you said that no man can walk by without looking at you"
This is especially funny because we know that Zhou IS a man - without realising it, the poor guy is drawing attention to the fact that his mistress has failed to tempt Zhou. Needless to say that Jin is none too pleased.....
The soundtrack is hardly Western but suits the style of film very well. Though I cannot think of much to say, the music fits in very well with each scene. One of my particular favourites is when Qui plays her flute to guide Zhou to the inn, and later during the reunion of the two lovers, where we can clearly understand the feelings that each shares for the other, while keeping the encounter physically subdued.
One of the downsides is that the plot can be a little heavy-going for people who are not used to this genre of film. Though I sank into it quite well, some of my friends said that it was a little confusing at the beginning. However they still enjoyed it immensely. And here is the reason as to why it is so good - even newcomers to Hong Kong martial arts films can enjoy the fluid, fast-moving action and stylish swordplay.
Go on - buy it on video or DVD. You know that you want to......