Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Goodbye, Dragon Inn d. Tsai Ming-liang, 2003

Tsai Ming-liang's paean to the cinema, Goodbye, Dragon Inn, contains only two short exchanges of dialogue. That is to say, this is a slow film. In his deliberately metered shots, linking non-event to non-event while existing virtually devoid of editing, Tsai captures closing night at the Fu-Ho Theater. From here on any reading or interpretation of mine could be argued just as easily from the other side - that is, one could maintain that I am projecting myself onto the film rather than the film actually meaning anything at all. Uh huh. Whatever.

Goodbye, Dragon Inn is the type of film loved by cineastes and loathed by the overwhelming majority of people that comprise everyone else. Even among cineastes the film has both its pro- and opponents. I find myself somewhere in the middle; I love the themes that Tsai is getting at, but am somewhat less enamored by his technique in getting at said themes. Fr'instance: the essence of Goodbye, Dragon Inn is the past - the inability to obtain it and the inevitability of the future tied into the concept of the past. The Fu-Ho is a theater that, when one considers its massive size, once must have been a lucrative and thriving cinema. Now it houses two employees and a small, rotating handful of patrons. Tsai emphasizes (over-emphasizes?) this point with multiple multi-minute static shots of the sparsely populated theater. After minute two - give or take - the point is home. After minute seven - once again, give or take - the point is home, sitting in his easy chair, and sipping an ice-cold longneck.

The reason Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a film for cineastes is that it examines the life of a cinema. The projector is turned away from expelling the outside onto the screen and toward reflection back on itself. What we see in Goodbye, Dragon Inn are the inner-workings of the Fu-Ho Theater and all that comes with the experience of being in the audience. Loud, obnoxious people sit behind a man. He turns to glare at them and they pay no attention. He moves. The man, now in a new seat, sees another man enter the theatre. This second man, seeing hundreds of empty seats, chooses to sit directly adjacent to the first man. It is painfully humorous, especially for someone who attends the theatre often and deals with this same type of scenario regularly. Then Tsai tackles film itself. Woven into the "narrative" of Goodbye, Dragon Inn are elements of Romance, Horror, and, thanks to the film playing at the Fu-Ho throughout the movie, Martial Arts. Meanwhile, all of this takes place against the constant sibilant aural backdrop of the projector humming away at 24 frames per second. We are surrounded by cinema.

Goodbye, Dragon Inn is truly Tsai's love-letter to cinema, and an aching one at that. It laments the passing of an era, when people came out in droves to see The Show. Moreover, it is a slow-reading, dryly-written letter, but if one can see past its iniquities, it has a great deal to say.


Post a Comment

<< Home