Dragon Gate Inn (1967)

The inn is an important place and a good fight location in many wuxia films, from old classics like Come Drink with Me to more recent and restyled pieces like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And sometimes it’s also a crucial plot device. A great example is Dragon Gate Inn (Long men kezhan, Taiwan, 1967), by King Hu. It marked the genre so much that it has already been remade twice: New Dragon Gate Inn (Sun lung moon hak chan, Hong Kong, 1992), by Raymond Lee, and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (Long men fei jia, Hong Kong, 2011), by Tsui Hark.

A narrator introduces the story explaining that this is the year 1457 in China, early in the Ming dynasty, a time when many eunuchs held important government positions. One of them, the cruel Zhao Shao Qin (Pai Ying), executes his political adversary Yu Qian and exiles his children. Secretly, though, he plans to have the children killed as well, to prevent any of them to avenge their father, and sends his guards to murder them on the road. A stranger dressed in yellow stops and kills the four assassins with swift swordsmanship.

Zhao then sends a larger group of guards to ambush Yu’s children at the Dragon Gate Inn, but a few heroes are there to foil their plans. The innkeeper is revealed to be is Wu Ming (Cho Kin), an ex-officer from Yu’s army. The stranger in yellow turns out to be the son of another of Yu’s soldiers, and he is traveling with his sister, who by herself is capable of winning sword fights against several men at once. The three are joined by another skilled warrior, Xiao Shao Zi (played by Chun Shih, who would also star in King Hu’s next movie, the famous A Touch of Zen), who can catch knives with chopsticks, among other feats.

Dragon Gate Inn has several good fight sequences, in the same balletic style of other King Hu movies. And, as the villains keep failing to defeat the heroes, Zhao Shao Qin himself decides to join the action for one final climatic battle. The evil eunuch is such a powerful swordsman that he can face several of the heroes at once, which gives us a long and somewhat surprising final fight.

Even though the action scenes in Dragon Gate Inn may seem a bit naive in comparison with more recent martial arts choreography, the movie contains many of the elements that still inspire the genre, including the not so subtle subtext that comes with a story of selfless heroes fighting to defend children from powerful and corrupt government agents.