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Good Bye, Dragon Inn

Director:  Tsai Ming-Liang
Year Released:  2003
Rating:  2.0

I consider Tsai one of my favorite filmmakers (not to mention one of the best filmmakers working) but this more-numb-than-usual film of his - about the closing of a movie house - is a stretch even for an ardent supporters such as myself. The premise is unusually banal - the death of cinema, apparently - and frankly, quite puzzling: if anything, the desire for cinema is still alive and well; if it's the demise of art cinema he's referring to, why show a sword-and-sand action movie (Dragon Inn)? Is his position on the medium closer to Sontag's "Death of Cinema" rant, which says theater-going and cinephilia are in decline? (At least to me, the presence of so many film festivals like Cannes, Toronto and Berlin - not to mention the proliferation of movie-themed sites and newsgroups on the Internet itself - shows film love is still very much alive if in a different 'state' than in was in the 60's where people allegedly flocked to see whatever Godard was offering.) As with all of Tsai's films, there are some pleasant touches, like placing some of the cast of the movie in the theater watching it (which is similar to Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud's role in What Time Is It There?) and an amusing bathroom joke that plays like a Jerry Seinfeld observation ("Did you ever notice that when you use the urinal..."). I've always valued the ambiguity and hypnotic pacing in his past work, but there's usually some enlightening pay-off in the end: in terms of substance, this has even less to offer intellectually than, for example, Jacques Nolot's Porn Theatre, which showed lost souls trying to find some kind of love - in the age of AIDS - in a run-down movie house.

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