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GOODBYE, DRAGON INN (BU SAN) (director/writer: Tsai Ming-Liang; cinematographer: Liao Peng-Jung; editor: Chen Sheng-cheen; cast: Lee Kang-sheng (Projectionist), Chen Shiang-chyi (Ticket Woman), Kiyonobu Mitamura (Japanese tourist), Shih Chun (Himself), Tien Miao (Himself); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Liang Hung-chih/Vincent Wang; Wellspring Media; 2003-Taiwan-in Mandarin, Cantonese and Taiwanese with English subtitles)
“Plays as a meditation on the deep feelings felt by the viewer and the filmmaker towards the movie experience.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Tsai Ming-liang’s (“What Time Is It There?”) droll haunting tribute to cinema, to an influential director in his career (whose style is almost completely opposite from his) and the death of a cinematic age, is an elegant minimalist-styled masterpiece. The film is wryly funny, lyrically melancholy in its depiction of urban loneliness and plays as a meditation on the deep feelings felt by the viewer and the filmmaker towards the movie experience. It’s set almost exclusively in the rundown cavernous Fun-Ho Grand Theater in Taipei. It’s showing for its swan song a Hong Kong 1966 classic martial arts action pic by King Hu called Dragon Inn, while outside there’s a rainstorm (and the roof is leaky in spots, as one of the projectionist’s chores is to empty the filling buckets). The theater is a two person operation: it’s run by a female ticket clerk (Chen Shiang-chyi), who walks with a limp and whose chores include cleaning the bathrooms, and a youthful projectionist (Lee Kang-sheng). There’s a sparse audience, with a steady stream wandering in and out, which includes some of that film’s stars (Miao Tien and Shi Ju), a little boy attending the movie with his movie loving grandfather (passing the torch to the new generation), a noisy popcorn munching patron, a crude woman patron dangling her legs over an empty seat and a lonely Japanese tourist (Kiyonobu Mitamura).

There’s the makings of a heterosexual love connection, as the ticket taker aches for the projectionist and brings a steamed bun to his booth; but he’s not there. There’s also the makings of a gay love connection as the Japanese tourist when not watching the movie does a gay cruising turn in the dimly lit hallways and in the men’s room and, on top of that, it also manages to squeeze in a ghost story as it holds open the possibility that rumors of ghosts in the theater might be true. That’s a lot on the plate for a film with few words that could have been viewed as a Buster Keaton silent, as the same deadpan humor fills the screen.

The first words spoken come 45 minutes into the film and are said by a patron exclaiming that “They say this theater is haunted.” Otherwise the dialogue comes from the movie showing onscreen. A film that contrasts the action pic with its virtually quiet film.

It’s a strange but lovable film, strictly for the arthouse crowd, that stays with you long after viewing it. Those long empty static shots that seem endlessly drawn out have a way of registering something magical that is incongruous to how playfully comical it was filmed by a director who’s on top of his game and seemingly could do no wrong.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”