Ming-liang Tsai’s Goodbye Dragon Inn (from 2003) is a classic where people who know and love historic cinemas will be able to adapt to the film’s movie ambience. Goodbye, Dragon Inn is engrossing in every scene and fragment, and it barely has any lines of dialogue. The film does not captivate its audience by its dialogue, but it does through many instances of clear continuity and cinematography throughout its cinema where the film takes place. I am someone who visits historic cinemas on a frequent basis throughout the Chicagoland area. Seeing this one at the Music Box Theatre made me feel deeply immersed in my movie’s habitat.
The film takes place on a stormy night at a regal Chinese cinema. The night is set to play its final film. That film is 1966 classic called “Dragon Inn.” With a rainy night, many would expect a crowd to turn up for a film, but the rain does not bring many fans out to this cinema. It has a small amount of audience, some who are into the movie, some who are less interested, and rather be social, and the entire film is just a visionary following of the many faces of who is at the cinema before its closure. The three characters in the cinema that have most of the attention Hsiao-Kang (played by Kang-sheng Lee), a Ticket Woman (played Shiang-chyi Chen), and a Japanese tourist (played by Kiyonobu Mitamura). All of them are in their own patterns as the nostalgic film plays on the big screen. With how many of them have different patterns throughout the movie, the cinema does not have much appreciation as it should.
Cinemas today relate to Goodbye, Dragon Inn. That is because many cinemas that are old and nostalgic are up and still in business and will draw in large crowds. Some may have different attendance now due to being in the early post-pandemic stages, but they still would usually grab attention. The opposite portion though, is how the cinema has (almost) no one a rainy day. The other aspect that adds to where its relatable but opposite, would be the audience not paying attention to the film. In today’s cinematic world, many film fanatics go to historic cinemas to enjoy classics, in Goodbye, Dragon Inn, the fans are going just to pass the time. What makes the film a masterpiece is its continued elements of showing every fragment of the cinema. That had me telling myself how amazing the cinema is and telling myself how cool it would be to be at that location as the characters were.
Watching this at Music Box Theatre also felt special because of how Music Box is an institute (literally). It was shown in 35 MM projection (the one true print projection format for classics). I did not want the experience to end. I felt like I was in a world of cinema history with being in a historic cinema and watching a film about a historic cinema. It was truly a mesmerizing experience that I will always remember at the Music Box Theatre.
Goodbye, Dragon Inn is essential to every cinema fanatic. For those who are frequent movie goers or have worked in cinemas (like me), they will relate to the pattern and direction that Goodbye, Dragon Inn is going. I loved this experience because it is a concept that is rewarding to cinema enthusiasts. If they know film subjects well, then Goodbye, Dragon Inn is essential among that subject. Four stars.