Taiwanese cinema: 2 intense films

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Witness for the Prosecution
What do you know about Taiwan and Taiwanese culture? Maybe that it is a country somewhere in Asia which might or might not be called The Republic of China? Or that the capital is Taipei? Something like that, I imagine. However, if politics or geography do not interest you that much, maybe you know that it has the best food in the world or that the people are more conservative.
But if you are uninformed about Taiwanese culture, then read this to find out about two films that are quite important (according to my research) when someone talks about Taiwanese cinema.
The first one is Dragon Inn (1967): a film that became a classic and probably influenced a great deal of wuxia movies. There are even several remakes of this movie, but I do not advise you to check them (they are pretty bad from what I’ve seen, but that’s expected.).
The second one is called Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003). It is a movie that speaks volumes to those who used to go to cinema or to those who know that cinema keeps changing, and new movements come into place. I don’t think it has a noticeable influence, but it illustrates the director’s style and the new Taiwanese wave of movies.
Why did I choose them?
As I said, I consider them representative for two distinct moments of Taiwanese cinema. I also find them interesting to watch, although they are totally different. By all means, do your own research as I am not an expert on Taiwanese cinema and I just want to give you two enjoyable movies.
Dragon Inn (1967) – director: King Hu
The story: The family of a former minister is escorted to Dragon Inn after the minister was beheaded by a eunuch. At Dragon Inn, the eunuch’s secret agents are waiting for the family to come whereas the innkeeper and some other characters try to help the family cross the border.
Why is it important?
It is engaging and sets a standard for the action movies to come. I don’t know how many movies similar to this one were made in ‘60s, but this one stands out due to the well-choreographed fights. Of course, you have different martial artists (male and females) thus there is a great variation! It keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The costumes are on point (being set in somewhere around 1450), and the acting is also good. You also sense the cultural differences between the typical samurai story (which is specific to Japan) and the simple martial art (along with Qi) learned for self-defense and protection of your country.
It also explores certain political dynamics from the Ming dynasty and briefly touches on personal beliefs and emotions.
So colorful too!
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Still from Dragon Inn 1967
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Still from Dragon Inn 1967
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Still from Dragon Inn 1967
However, when it comes to editing, it is a bit wacky and repetitive (too many cuts, in my opinion) but the technology was not so advanced, and it is normal to be like this. For its time, I’m sure it was revolutionary. And the fights are still better than a lot from our time.
To put it short, I think it opened the road for an era of action-movies based on martial artists and national history. Of course, it is not the only movie, but probably one of the important ones. In the following decades, you have plenty of Taiwanese wuxia movies.
Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) – director: Ming-liang Tsai
The story: A regal Taipei cinema before being closed. Last film: Dragon Inn. Characters: some people wandering in and out of the room, looking for someone or something. Waiting for time to pass. Enjoying the last movie.
Why is it important?
Unlike Dragon Inn, this one is not fast-paced but extremely slow. It is shorter (80 minutes), but it feels longer. It is heavily based on the atmosphere, and how it makes you feel.
This Taiwanese movie shows how much the style has evolved. The style is minimalist, having a few long shots (roughly 60 shots), using neon lights to create an atmosphere. There are some scenes where you don’t see any person, just an empty room because it is not a plot-driven film.
There are also 5 or 6 lines said throughout the movie if you do not take into consideration the sound from Dragon Inn. That is insanely low. It also goes for immersion as you feel like you are in the cinema room, watching the movie. It portrays this highly personal experience.
Stunning visuals!
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Still from Goodbye, Dragon Inn 2003
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Still from Goodbye, Dragon Inn 2003
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Still from Goodbye, Dragon Inn 2003
Thus, Goodbye, Dragon Inn portrays not only a farewell from a movie era dominated by action, but also hello to a new wave of Taiwanese movies which is nothing like its predecessor. It also shows that you can do more than you imagine and to what lengths can you go.
Should I watch them?
Of course! As always, it depends on what you want to watch.
If you want a fast-paced colorful movie, definitely you should watch Dragon Inn. This also goes if you’re passionate about martial arts, Chinese and Taiwanese culture. It is a 2hours movie. It does not have an intricate plot, so it is perfect if you want to have a great time with friends too. Some jokes are funny!
If you want a slow burner, visual based movie, check Goodbye, Dragon Inn. It also works for those who like to discover unique filming styles and who want to enrich their horizon regarding Taiwanese culture. It is also for those who feel a lot, and want to experience a lot in a simple way.

If you want to make a list of Asian movies, I also recommend Kids Return and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. 

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