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MOVIE REVIEW : A Lively, Witty, Action-Packed 'Dragon Inn'

June 04, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Dragon Inn" (at the Monica 4-Plex), a lively, witty remake of one of revered director King Hu's most delightful films, shows off the versatility of Maggie Cheung, one of Hong Kong's top stars.

As proprietress of a large inn standing in a desert near China's northern border, she must be all things to all men and be capable of handling any situation instantly. Her beautiful but boisterous Jade King brings to mind Marlene Dietrich's Altar Keane in Fritz Lang's "Rancho Notorious": She also operates for profit a bandit hideout. No doubt Jade could show her legs and sing a song like Altar, but has no time to do so--she's too busy defending her life with her formidable martial arts skills.

Jade can be an unflinching paid assassin, but what she really enjoys are men--and money. Under Raymond Lee's fast, taut direction, Cheung creates a lusty, earthy woman of unflagging indomitability yet suggests that beneath her bravado there lurks an individual who for all her professed cynicism has a sense of right and wrong, maybe even vulnerability. Jade is a classic good-bad girl, and Cheung, who has successfully portrayed the great prewar Shanghai star Ruan Ling-yu in a film bio, misses no opportunity for nuances both comic and rueful.

Jade really has her hands full. We're in the Ming Dynasty, and Emperor Tai's eunuchs, the men of the East Chamber, are in the midst of a brutal power grab, intent on seizing control of the entire country. For refusing to obey the orders of the chief eunuch rather than those of the emperor, the secretary of the military is put to a hideous public death. Shortly thereafter, Mo (Brigitte Lin), a brave female warrior, and her entourage arrives at Jade's Dragon Inn. Hidden in large baskets are the two small children of the late military secretary, who Mo and her men are intent on getting safely across the border.

In the course of events, these people try to outbluff each other like players in a high-stakes poker game, and Lee piles up their intrigues outrageously, adroitly building tension that will give way to the film's climactic razzle-dazzle battle sequence, set against the vast desert waste and a spectacle of epic pageantry. Handsomely produced by period maestro Tsui Hark, "Dragon Inn" (Times-rated Mature for violence and sexual innuendo) is simply a terrific action adventure.

'Dragon Inn'

Maggie Cheung Jade

Brigitte Lin Mo

Tony Leung Chow

Donnie Yen Eunuch Yin

A Rim Films presentation of a Film Workshop production. Director Raymond Lee. Producer Tsui Hark. Screenplay by Hark, Carbon Cheung, Xiao Wu. Cinematographer Tom Lau, Arthur Wong. Editor Poon Hung. Music Philip Chan. Art directors William Chang, Mark Chiu. Set designers Leung Chi Hung, Chung Yee Fung. Martial arts choreographers Ching Siu Tung, Yuen Bun. In Cantonese, with English and Chinese subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes.

Times-rated Mature (for violence and sexual innuendo).

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