By Jeffrey M. Anderson
The sixth feature film by Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang, "Goodbye Dragon Inn" is the perfect festival film: a masterful meditation on both the singular and collective experience of going to the movies.
The story takes place in a leaking, dilapidated movie house on the last (rainy) day of its existence. For the theater's final film, Tsai has chosen an old kung-fu film, King Hu's Dragon Inn (1967).
It's a good choice. Hu's magnificently fluid action camerawork completely juxtaposes Tsai's still, lingering shots. Yet it's a fairly obscure work. When two of the actors from Dragon Inn turn up, much older, to watch the film, no one recognizes them. It adds to the sadness of a theater shutting down; a vibrant film from days gone by that no one remembers or cares about.
The theater operates with its own quiet life-pulse. A pretty but hopelessly hobbled ticket girl lurches around the theater's dank intestines looking for the handsome projectionist (Tsai regular Lee Kang-sheng), to give him half of her pink fortune cake, hoping for one final chance to bond with him.
The theater's few patrons likewise look for some kind of human connection. A Japanese tourist who has come into the theater to get out of the incessant rain wanders around looking for someone to light his cigarette and possibly something more. The first person he meets, the first person to speak to him, warns him that the theater is haunted. Later a woman sitting near him and watching the film "disappears" while looking for her shoe.
With almost no camera movement and barely a stitch of dialogue, Tsai uses yawning physical space and aching time to lay bare loneliness in visual form. When the film ends, the quietness overtakes everything else. In a single, wide shot, we watch the ticket girl stump in and around the empty seats for the last time. When she leaves the frame, Tsai holds the shot for an impossibly long time, daring us to consider everything about this experience of going to the movies.
Afterwards, it's still raining (could this be the same rainstorm from Tsai's The Hole?) and we watch the ticket girl as she walks home. The movie is over and there isn't going to be a next one. How sad is that?
**** out of ****
(81m | NR)