Signed up for a free trial of FilmStruck to watch the recently-added Dragon Inn. This 1967 Wuxia classic from acclaimed director King Hu features many narrative conventions typical to the genre—nefarious eunuchs, corrupt court officials, chivalrous swordsmen capable of superhuman feats, and even a tough-as-nails warrior woman disguised as a man (albeit not very convincingly)—but manages to be a cut above the rest by focusing on story and suspense, rather than the usual spectacle and acrobatics.
Amidst all the valiant heroes and scheming villains, the eponymous inn itself emerges as the most captivating character, serving as both safe haven and ominous deathtrap as the plot demands. Hu takes full advantage of its cramped, rickety interior to stage chaotic brawls, devious assassination attempts, tense negotiations, and full-scale sieges; the audience gradually becomes so intimately acquainted with its every nook and cranny that, when our outnumbered protagonists are forced to flee into the mountains, it’s as heart-wrenching and tearful a farewell as Shane riding off into the sunset, or Butch and Sundance charging out with guns blazing to meet the Bolivian army.
Judging by the presence of illustrated cover art on its “About” page (as opposed to the customary screenshot), Criterion intends to release Dragon Inn on home video in the near future. After this tantalizing first taste, I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to digging into whatever special features and supplementary materials they’re cooking up.
[Originally written September 23, 2017. Yes, Criterion eventually issued a Blu-ray release.]