One of the first images in Tsai Ming-Liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn is an establishing shot of the Fu-Ho, an old-school cinema in Taiwan. Deep puddles shimmer on the concrete; the only sound is the monotonous patter of heavy rainfall. Suddenly, a black cat darts across the frame, ducking into an alleyway to escape the deluge.
This moment is, by the rest of the movie’s standards, a thrilling action scene.
And that’s a beautiful thing; Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a master class in minimalism, almost magical in its mundanity. For a little over eighty minutes, we observe the act of watching as various patrons gather for a late-night screening of King Hu’s Dragon Inn... and that’s really all there is to it. The camera remains predominantly static; the takes are consistently long and lingering. There is very little spoken dialogue; Tsai instead utilizes such ambient noises as footsteps, the crinkling of plastic, and the drip-drip-dripping of leaky pipes to fill the silence. The film even lacks a proper genre; there is the implication of romance, the suggestion of something supernatural, and plenty of dry humor—but nothing concrete enough to hang a definitive label on. For the most part, we simply inhabit setting alongside the characters, soaking in the delicious atmosphere.
Goodbye, Dragon Inn’s slow pace, reserved style, and uneventful "plot" won’t appeal to all viewers, but I savored every languid minute of it—and I lament the fact that the ongoing pandemic has transformed its unconventional, experimental narrative into just as much of an escapist fantasy as a traditional wuxia epic.