Good Bye, Dragon Inn (不散)
Director: Tsai Ming-liang
Written: Tsai Ming-liang. Hsi Sung
This is the type of movie that is very difficult to put into any category. I have to give a warning – only watch this film if you have already seen a lot of Asian cinema or you really like the movies of David Lynch and New French Wave. Otherwise, this is not a movie you would start your journey through Asian film. However, with effort it can be very rewarding experience.
It is even difficult to say what the movie is about, as practically nothing happens in it. A Japanese tourist stumbles into an old movie theater where they are screening an old classic “Dragon Gate Inn” by King Hu. Inside the theater the director creates this dream-like universe, with weird characters and awkward situations and practically no talking (kind of reminded me of the David Lynch series “Twin Peaks” but taken to extremes). In this big, run-down, leaking movie theater characters try to find human contact. The Japanese tourist is looking for homosexual encounters in men’s room and dark corners of the place; the ticket lady desperately searches for projectionist, going up and down the seemingly endless stairs and corridors, even though it is difficult for her with a braced leg. In the end, one keeps wondering if those strange theater dwellers are real people or just ghosts, as the rare dialogue line in movie says
Do you know this theater is haunted?
Tsai Ming-liang plays with the medium of film; he puts forth the things that usually are omitted in movies – people walking, empty rooms, people eating. Not only does he show it, he keeps the actions focused on the screen for so long, that you can’t help but think “Why is he doing that? What is he trying to say?” And he never answers. I personally made a connection to this theoretical academic aspect of movie theaters. In the history of film the viewing of movies in theaters has changed. In the beginning of film movie screenings were more active, screened during social events, where people would eat, drink, and chat. Live bands would play the soundtrack music. The dark halls where people sit still, inactive, as immovable objects while the movie is an active subject – is a later development which we take for granted now. It is a specific, but not the only way of possible movie experience. It is also one of these weird social spaces, where strangers all sit together in same place, close to each other (something like in public transport spaces too), but they do not interact and after the movie ritual just go back to their normality. So, I see Tsai’s movie an artistic and a bit sarcastic view on this situation. Moreover, this is the last screening in this theater that is about to close down. It could be seen as a tribute to the older style of movie theaters, that were not located in mega shopping malls, and were not filled with popcorn munchers waiting to see a remake of something in 3D.
What really pulls the movie off is the dao-style aesthetics of its visuals. A lot of emptiness and nothingness; the contrast of silence inside and rain outside; the still movie watchers and activity of film being screened; the big empty spaces and small narrow spaces where people cross by each other. Without its brilliant, philosophical visual style movie would be one of those uncomfortable pretentious attempts t be “different”. However with it I think many people could say “I don’t know exactly why, but somehow it is hypnotically pleasurable to watch “Good Bye, Dragon Inn”.