Three Films Themed after Dragon Inn
Over the years, films featuring Dragoninn have been remade with not only a patriotic flair, but have become a symbol of the martial arts cinema of China.
The Dragon Gate Inn is more than a lodge in the hearts of film fans. Fifty years ago, the film Longmen kezhan ( Dragon Inn) directed by Hu Jinquan (King Hu, 1932–1997) made its premiere. Based on the “Wresting the Gate Incident,” it recounts the story of fighting between knights- errant who protected the remaining children of the loyal general and Eastern Depot (spy agency) killers led by the eunuch Cao Shaoqin.
During the past half century, the film that features Dragon Inn has been remade as Xinlongmen kezhan ( New Dragon Inn) and Longmen feijia ( The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate). These Chinese martial arts films not only have a patriotic flair, but make the flag which reads “Dragon Inn” down Helan Mountains a sign of China’s martial arts cinema, flying in the desert.
Wresting the Gate Incident
The story about Dragon Inn is traced to the “Wresting the Gate Incident” in China’s history. In 1449 when the Tumu Crisis occurred, Zhu Qizhen, Emperor Yingzong (reign: 1436–1450, 1457–1465) of Ming was captured. The Oirat head Esen Taishi (died in 1455) took him to chase the Ming troops to Beijing. At this time of crisis, Zhu Qiyu ascended the throne and became known as Emperor Daizong (reign: 1450–1457); Yu Qian (1398–1457) was promoted to serve as the Minister of War and led the defence of the Ming capital.
After five days of heavy battle, the Ming army defeated the Oirat Mongols. As Esen failed to lure the Ming into surrender and his troops suffered defeat, he had to release the previous Emperor Zhu Qizhen. However, there couldn’t be two emperors in one palace. Since Zhu Qiyu wouldn’t step aside, he put Zhu Qizhen under house arrest in the southern palace after Zhu Qizhen came back to the capital.
In 1456, general Shi Heng (died in 1460), together with eunuch Cao Jixiang (died in 1461), military governor Zhang Yue (1393–1458), the censor-in chief Yang Shan (1384–1458), minister of ceremonies Xu Bin (1392–1467) and vice censor-in chief Xu Youzhen (1407–1472), staged a coup known as “Wresting the Gate Incident,” restoring Zhu Qizhen to the throne. The now Emperor Zhu Qizhen convinced that “the restoration would mean nothing if Yu Qian were not be killed,” putting him into prison. Yu Qian was later falsely accused of treason and executed, hence a historical wrong case.
Although historians regarded “Wresting the Gate Incident” as a “meaningless” struggle for the throne, the incident was undoubtedly the source material for artistic creation. Dragon Inn, directed by Hu Jinquan and released in 1967, told of what happened after Cao Shaoqin, the emperor’s first eunuch in Eastern Depot, beheaded the Minister of War Yu Qian.
Plotting to cut off Yu Qian’s bloodline, Cao Shaoqin sent the imperial guards to kill Yu’s remaining children. To rescue the descendants of the loyal general, Xiao Shaozi, the lead character infuriated the Eastern Depot and defeated Cao Shaoqin by cooperating with other courageous men.
Perhaps even Hu Jinquan would never expect that Dragon Inn would be remade as New Dragon Inn and The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, involving martial arts film directors and famous actors such as Tsui Hark, Jet Li and Donnie Yen.
Their efforts have transformed Chinese martial arts film from pure action into one increasing humane concerns. New martial arts films have achieved breakthroughs and made leaps in story structure, narrative form and character image, and turned chivalry from texts into images, remaining in the hearts of audiences of all ages.
Different Films, Same Theme
The three Dragon Inn- themed films make for quite different viewing experience. The 44year time span does not allow to ignore, but at