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Dragon Inn

China (1992), 88 minutes
Starring: Maggie Cheung, Briette Lin, Donnie Yen and Tony Leung Kai-Fai
Reviewer: Val Frost
Genre: Martial Arts
Rating: 4

Dragon Inn is a lonely desert outpost run by Jade (Cheung)—a hottie with a penchant for human flesh. She lures poor unsuspecting bastards up to her room with promises of hot sex, then before they have their pants unzipped, Jade kills them with “willow darts,” takes their money, then kicks them down a chute where the butcher chops them up for the house specialty, spicy meat buns. Jade and her comrades are thieves whose favors go to the highest bidder.

Enter Yau Mok Sau (Lin), disguised (as usual for Lin) as a man. She brings with her two children on the run from the evil East Chamber—a bunch of nasty Eunuchs who apparently want to take over the world; or at the very least all of China. Soon after their arrival, Chow Wai On (Leung Ka-Fai), Yau’s sweetie and East Chamber fugitive arrives. Jade sets her sites on Chow, not for meat but for sex and money.

In the midst of this triangle enters a bunch of East Chamber dudes on the look out for Chow. Tensions arise when the leader doesn’t know what Chow looks like, but suspicions are rampant.

Unbeknownst to most, Jade has a secret tunnel that runs out to the desert—a great getaway for any self-respecting fugitive. When Chow discovers this, he tries to persuade Jade to let him and his company use it to escape the East Chamber. His promise of marriage finally persuades her (Jade isn’t interested in marriage—only the honeymoon). It is during this intimate battle—Chow trying to get her to divulge the escape route, Jade trying to bed Chow—that all hell breaks loose at the Inn between the two factions. Adding to this is the arrival of the head Eunuch, Donnie Yen.

Chow’s company finally escapes into the tunnel with Jade and the house butcher, but are pursued into a sand storm by Tsau sin Yan (Yen), head honcho of the East Chamber. The final action battle is amazing with the camera running wildly though the sand tracking the three on one sword fight between Tsau, Yau, Chow and Jade.

Dragon Inn is less confusing than many other HK flicks, the story line is somewhat straightforward and the swordplay and wire-fu are fairly well done. The most important thing to remember when viewing HK cinema, especially if you are a newbie to the genre, is that you do not need to actually understand the plot in order to enjoy the film. HK filmmakers consider plot quite secondary to the action and actors (Which is why Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was a bit of a flop in Hong Kong; it was too plot driven for the audiences). In fact, I often don’t have the slightest idea of what’s going on in many of my favorite HK films!

Maggie Cheung has the most to do in her role of Jade (a woman after money and, if she is lucky, a one-night stand). Her face aglow with desert sweat, her motivations clear, she has much more to work with than in the Jackie Chan films (i.e., Police Story 1, 2, and 3: Supercop—a series that allowed Western audiences to become acquainted with her for the first time), and bears the burden with energy, sex appeal, and humor.

Brigitte Lin is beautiful but is left with little to do after Ka-Fai arrives. Kai-Fai though is quite strong in the roll of Chow. Tall and handsome, he only feeds into Yau’s misery during his marriage to Jade. Donnie Yen, all gussied up with bright rouge (so we know he’s a eunuch I guess), makes a rather brief appearance in the beginning set up and then disappears until the final showdown in the sand. Once again, Mr. Yen’s talents have been wasted. Check out the magnificent Iron Monkey if you want to see what this fantastic actor and martial artist is capable of.

All in all, Dragon Inn captivated me; I mean, how many movies involve plot elements such as eunuchs and cannibalism? My favorite scene involved Cheung and Lin undressing one another in a slow motion wire-fu sequence. “What?” you say? My point exactly, one has to see it! The beginning is a little slow, but once the Inn is introduced, our attention is focused on Maggie Cheung and everything that swirls around her. The fight in the sandstorm at the end is thrilling (with a finale that is both surprising and shocking!) if all too quick, but Dragon Inn serves as both a fun film for HK film lovers and as an excellent introduction for people new to the genre.