|S E A R C H D V D B e a v e r|
Dragon Inn aka "Long men kezhan" [Blu-ray]
(King Hu, 1967)
Review by Gary Tooze
Theatrical: Union Film Company
Video: Eureka - Masters of Cinema - Spine #129 / Criterion Spine # 937
Region: 'B'-locked/ Region 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)
Runtime: 1:51:18.797 / 1:51:39.693
Disc Size: 37,595,524,669 bytes / 45,977,901,560 bytes
Feature Size: 32,605,474,176 bytes / 33,290,655,744 bytes
Video Bitrate: 34.98 Mbps / 35.64 Mbps
Chapters: 11 / 23
Case: Standard Blu-ray case / Transparent Blu-ray Case
Release date: October 26th, 2015/ July 10th, 2018
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video
LPCM Audio Mandarin 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
LPCM Audio Chinese 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
English (SDH), none
•Archival newsreel footage from the film’s première (1:45)
• Trailer (1:53)
• Hostel Forces, a new video essay by critic David Cairns (15:21)
• 36-PAGE BOOKLET featuring vintage writing on the film by critic Tony Rayns; a testimonial about King Hu by Tsui Hark; an analysis of Hu’s style by Edmond Wong; the eight characteristics of “the inn” in King Hu’s films and archival images
New interview with actor
Shangkuan Ling-fung (10:29)
Description:A quintessential entryway into the highly stylized, tightly choreographed wuxia genre of martial arts cinema, Dragon Inn was a global breakthrough for the form's greatest practitioner, King Hu. Its influence remains incalculable, from its annihilation of traditional expectations of what kind of role an actress should inhabit (also chipped away at by Hu's previous masterpiece Come Drink with Me), to the formation of many of the genre's archetypes - such as the Eunuch, the Swordswoman, and the Family of Murdered Loyal Officials - that are still recognizable in the martial arts films of today.
It's the middle of the Ming Dynasty. The powerful eunuch Cao (Pai Ying) has killed the Loyal Minister Yu, and Yu's children are exiled to the border, whereupon Cao undertakes efforts to massacre the remnants of the family. As Yu's children take refuge in the Dragon Gate Inn, Xiao the righteous swordsman (Shih Jun) and the surviving loyalists of Minister Yu engage in a series of battles to the death against the forces of the blood thirsty eunuch.
After having returned to the spotlight in 2003 as the backdrop for Tsai Ming-liang's modern classic Good Bye Dragon Inn, Hu's film is again resurrected by way of the dazzling 2014 4K restoration presented here. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Dragon Inn for the first time in the UK in a Dual Format special edition.
1967's "Dragon Inn" ("Long men kezhan" in
Mandarin, also known as "Dragon Gate Inn") is kind of a big deal. It's
the first film that director King Hu did in Taiwan after leaving Shaw Brothers,
in many ways jump-starting that country's film industry. It's been remade and
referenced, and its DNA shows up in many movies beyond Hu's "inn films". And
most importantly, it's a terrific wuxia film in it's own right.
The art of martial-arts filmmaking took a leap into bold new territory with this action-packed tale of Ming-dynasty intrigue. After having the emperor’s minister of defense executed, a power-grabbing eunuch sends assassins to trail the victim’s children to a remote point on the northern Chinese border. But that bloodthirsty mission is confounded by a mysterious group of fighters who arrive on the scene, intent on delivering justice and defending the innocent. The first film King Hu made after moving to Taiwan from Hong Kong in search of more creative freedom, Dragon Inn combines rhythmic editing, meticulous choreography, and gorgeous widescreen compositions with a refinement that was new to the wuxia genre. Its blockbuster success breathed new life into a classic formula and established Hu as one of Chinese cinema’s most audacious innovators.
When it comes to martial arts films, 1967 was a huge, formative year. The first mega-hit of the genre, The One-Armed Swordsman, made Jimmy Wang Yu a star and cemented director Chang Cheh as the genre’s leading visionary. Just a few months after the release of that film, director King Hu, having recently left the Shaw Brothers after creative differences on Come Drink with Me, unleashed Dragon Inn. As an independent film out of Taiwan it may not have had the budget or the clout of the Shaw Brothers studio behind it, but Dragon Inn is arguably more well-known than almost all the 1960s martial arts films from the Shaw studio. I knew all this going into Dragon Inn, and even with an incredible amount of historical hype behind it, Dragon Inn wowed me with its cinematic artistry and an ahead-of-its-time ability to craft thrilling martial arts sequences through editing.
The story of Dragon Inn is a well-known one, but that doesn’t impede the film’s ability to enthrall. The government is corrupt and controlled by devious eunuchs, and our story begins as Zhao Shao Qin, a eunuch with unparalleled power, orders the execution of General Yu, a good man who was framed. Yu’s family is sent to the remote outpost of Dragon Gate, where Zhao has plans to murder them far from the watchful eyes of civilization. He sends a delegation of his most powerful soldiers to await the family’s arrival at the inn, but thankfully there’s a few people at Dragon Gate still loyal to General Yu and his resilient spirit.
Image : NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
King Hu's Dragon Inn is sweeeeet on Blu-ray from The Masters of Cinema group in the UK. The restoration of this film is part of the "Taiwan Film Classics Digital Restoration and Value-Adding Project" commissioned by the Ministry of Culture to Chinese Taipei Film Archive in 2013. The 1080P transfer is dual-layered with a max'ed out bitrate and supports the film's textures beautifully in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors are deep and tight and depth is frequently apparent. This Blu-ray offers a rich, mesmerizing 1080P presentation with exceptional contrast. I was thrilled with the presentation!
The Criterion is advertised as "New 4K digital restoration, supervised by cinematographer Hua Hui-ying". The Criterion restoration is also part of the "Taiwan Film Classics Digital Restoration and Value-Adding Project" commissioned by the Ministry of Culture to Chinese Taipei Film Archive in 2013. Like the Masters of Cinema it is on a dual-layered disc with a max'ed out bitrate. The Criterion colors are a shade richer, black levels deeper and the visuals are exported slightly more crisply. You can even see it in the un-expanded captures below. The UK might show more texture but the Criterion is a step up in detail and there is a slight variance in the frame with the MoC looking marginally vertically stretched. You would have to have quite the discerning system to identify significant variance.
CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
The audio is transferred via a linear PCM 1.0 channel mono channel track at 1152 kbps. The film's sounds are a unique blend - but common, I suppose, to the Wuxia genre with smashing cracks of violent kicks and punches and a dynamic score by Lan-Ping Chow and, un-credited, Ta Chiang Wu. It is very Spaghetti western-esque at times. In David Cairns Hostel Forces video essay supplement he appropriately remarks that the music occasionally sounds like "a needle dropping on vinyl - paving the way for Quentin Tarantino's mashups." It is odd, but no doubt accurate to the film's original production - even the squeaky high-end must surely be part of the presentation. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'B'-locked.
Criterion have the same audio transfer - a linear PCM mono track, in original Mandarin, 24-bit. I couldn't notice any difference. The Criterion also offers optional English subtitles and their Blu-ray is Region 'A'-locked.
There is some poor quality archival newsreel footage from the film’s première in Taipei and a new MoC trailer but the best digital supplement is a 15-minute video essay, entitled, Hostel Forces, by critic David Cairns. He gives a brief history of Hu's work evoking Sergio Leone, Hitchcock, Charlton Heston's entrance in El Cid etc. finding supportive references in Dragon Inn. He talks about the camera angles, one-dimensional characters and is amused by the frequent conflict set-ups and facial expressions. It's wonderful and I only wish it was longer. The package contains a 36-page liner notes booklet featuring vintage writing on the film by critic Tony Rayns; a testimonial about King Hu by Tsui Hark; an analysis of Hu’s style by Edmond Wong; the eight characteristics of “the inn” in King Hu’s films and archival images. Being dual-format we also get a, second disc, DVD.
Criterion include a new 10-minute interview with actor Shangkuan Ling-fung recalling her work on Dragon Inn with director King Hu. There is also an 11-minute interview from 2016 with actor Shih Chun detailing the actor’s experiences making Dragon Inn. I enjoyed the 25-minute new scene analysis by author and New York Asian Film Festival cofounder Grady Hendrix. She discusses director King Hu’s aesthetic sensibility via analysis of a scene from Dragon Inn. WE also get a short video of Newsreel footage of the film’s 1967 premiere in Taipei, Taiwan showing the cultural impact of Dragon Inn upon its release. There is also a trailer and the package has a booklet with an essay by critic Andrew Chan.
Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray
Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray
The Criterion nudges ahead with the 4K restored transfer and extras - although both have immense value. The film gets better each time I see it...
October 21st, 2015
June 7th, 2018
About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.
Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who
focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I
find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.
Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD
Gary W. Tooze
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