Introduced by director Peter Strickland (26 May screening only).
Tsai Ming-liang on dream palaces and ‘Goodbye, Dragon Inn’
Taiwan Movie theatres are like temples. You will always meet a true god. You can discover the details of extreme close-ups, and the breadth of extreme long shots. Then you experience the moments of magic that only a movie theatre can bring. When I was a child, my grandpa and I were always in and out of different movie theatres. In Kuching, a small town in Malaysia, these theatres weren’t far from each other and played various types of movies. Odeon Theatre specialised in Cantonese films from Hong Kong, opera or Taiwanese films. Capital Theatre was the exclusive theatre for Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers Studios, and also showed commercial films from Japan. Rex Cinema was the world of Hollywood. In the 1960s, these theatres were a large part of my childhood; in the 1980s, just a few years after I left my hometown, they were all razed to the ground. I thought I had forgotten them, but occasionally they return to my dreams.
Sight & Sound, Winter 2020-21
I made Goodbye, Dragon Inn in my 30s. I’d found a cinema that was closing in the suburbs of Taipei. All the cinemas in that style were closing down, and this was one of the last ones left. I was filming What Time Is It There? (2001), and there was a scene that took place in that cinema. After I wrapped, I held a single screening there. It was raining outside, but there were a thousand people in this about-to-close cinema. The cinema owner called me asking if we might be able to collaborate, and I said no.
He was trying to convince me to run the cinema because I’d managed to pack it out. Instead I said, ‘Rent me the cinema and I’ll make a film here.’ I had no idea what I was going to make, but I took it for a year. I didn’t run it, I just rented it from him. Then, of course, I forgot all about it. It was my producer who reminded me in the last month that I had it, and he asked what I wanted to do with it.
So I wrote just one page, that was basically just a short piece of poetry, and had a thought of screening Dragon Inn on the final day. It was after that I wrote the film and acquired the rights to the King Hu, then shot it over the last ten days – four shots a day. It’s a film that deals with memories. The memories of that cinema became the memories of cinema.
Interview by Matthew Thrift, bfi.org.uk, April 2019
Lights in the Dark
As a singularly self-infatuated medium, almost as soon as cinema learned to walk, it toddled to the mirror and, with its first self-regarding gaze, reflected upon the means and methods of its own exhibition and reception. For about the first half of its life to date, ‘the cinema’ referred to both an artform and to the venue where that artform was, during that period, exclusively displayed, and in very little time the former was being used to contemplate the latter. Take D.W. Griffith’s short Those Awful Hats (1909), in which the sightlines of an audience attending a melodrama screening are violated by a parade of patrons wearing ostentatious top hats and millinery, the illusion of a film projection achieved through double printing and a travelling matte.
Griffith, the electric Victorian, helped to build cinema a bridge into the 20th century. Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003), restored last year by the Cinematek in Brussels and newly available on Blu-ray from Second Run, feels almost like the first film of the 21st, reflecting in a eulogistic tone on the last stages of a long-ongoing uncoupling between cinema, the art, and cinemas, the physical places. Tsai’s film is set almost entirely on the precincts of the Fu-Ho Grand, a rundown 1,000-seat Taipei movie theatre, and almost entirely during a final, sparsely attended screening of King Hu’s Dragon Inn (1967) on the eve of what has been billed as the theatre’s ‘temporary closing’. Goodbye, Dragon Inn acts as a farewell, saying ‘so long’ not only to the lively neighbourhood cinemas of Tsai’s boyhood, evoked in a packed-house flashback overture; but to the popular Greater Chinese cinema represented by a figure like Hu, who had died in 1997 as the Taiwanese and Hong Kong industries were in economic freefall; and even to the second life enjoyed by cinemas like the Fu-Ho, acting as cruising spots for the city’s gay men.
In looking towards cinema’s uncertain future, Tsai recalls its early history, having by this stage, his sixth theatrical feature, achieved a pared down style consisting of wide shots and locked-down camera set-ups that might suggest the vocabulary of primitive cinema. Structured as a series of vignettes, his film includes several set pieces in which cruising Japanese tourist Mitamura Kiyonobu has run-ins with inconsiderate cinema patrons, gag scenes which aren’t so far in simple set-up and execution from Those Awful Hats.
The Tsai of Goodbye, Dragon Inn, however, is interested in another primal draw. This is the erotics of the cinema space, as described by Roland Barthes in his 1975 essay ‘Leaving the Movie Theatre’, which described the cinema as an arena of inchoate longing, proclaiming: ‘The movie house (ordinary model) is a site of availability (even more than cruising), the inoccupation of bodies, which best defines modern eroticism – not that of advertising or striptease, but that of the big city.’
Tsai’s film explores the etiquette of cruising in the Fu-Ho, which, according to the director, at the end of its functional life – it had ceased playing second-run double-bills by the time of the Goodbye, Dragon Inn shoot – became a hub for gay men. A stint as a porn theatre was, in many cases, the last gasp for cinemas before the wrecking balls inevitably came to do their duty. As multiplexes proliferate, smaller theatres have disappeared, and the air of precarity found in Goodbye, Dragon Inn is by no means unique to Tsai’s cinema-on-cinemas film. Given to morbid self-examination as the seventh art is, it stands to reason that it should also be a particularly hypochondriacal artform, which in no year since that of its birth hasn’t been poked and prodded in search of the telltale signs of a fatal disease.
Nick Pinkerton, Sight & Sound, Winter 2020-21
GOODBYE, DRAGON INN (BÚ SÀN)
Director: Tsai Ming-liang
Production Company: Homegreen Films
In collaboration with: Council of Cultural Affairs
International sales: Homegreen Films
Executive Producer: Tsai Ming-liang
Producer: Liang Hung Chih
Assistant Director: Vincent Wang
Screenplay: Tsai Ming-liang
Director of Photography: Liao Pen-jung
Lighting Director: Lee Lung-yu
Stills Photography: Lin Meng-shan
Editor: Chen Sheng-chang
Art Director: Lu Li-chin
Costume Designer: Sun Huei-mei
Sound Design: Du Tuu-chih
Sound Recording: Tang Hsiang-chu
Publicity: Chang San-ling
Lee Kang-sheng (projectionist)
Chen Shiang-chyi (ticket woman)
Kiyonobu Mitamura (Japanese tourist)
Courtesy of Second Run DVD
DREAM PALACE: THE FILMS THAT CINEMAS WERE BUILT FOR
Mon 17 May 17:45 (+ intro by Ben Roberts, BFI CEO); Tue 1 Jun 20:40
Tue 18 May 18:10; Sat 29 May 12:45 (+ intro by Stuart Brown, BFI Head of Programme and Acquisitions)
The Shout + pre-recorded intro by Mark Jenkin
Wed 19 May 21:00; Thu 3 Jun
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
Thu 20 May 17:30 (+ intro by Justin Johnson, BFI Lead Programmer); Thu 24 Jun 20:30
Footloose + pre-recorded intro by Francis Lee
Thu 20 May 20:45; Sat 29 May 18:00
Fri 21 May 18:00 (+ intro by Gurinder Chadha); Mon 31 May 18:50
David Byrne’s American Utopia
Fri 21 May 20:45 (+ intro by Tricia Tuttle, BFI Festival Director); Mon 14 Jun 18:00
Beginning + pre-recorded intro by Luca Guadagnino
Sat 22 May 11:30; Tue 22 Jun 20:30
Sat 22 May 14:20 (+ intro by Edgar Wright); Mon 7 Jun 17:50
The Wonders (Le meraviglie) + pre-recorded intro by Mark Cousins
Sat 22 May 15:15; Thu 3 Jun 20:30
Hair + pre-recorded intro by Kleber Mendonça Filho
Sat 22 May 20:30; Fri 28 May 17:45
Magnificent Obsession + Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf)
Sun 23 May 15:45 (+ intro by Heather Stewart, BFI Creative Director); Sun 6 Jun 18:40
Beau Travail + pre-recorded intro by Kirsten Johnson
Sun 23 May 18:40; Sun 30 May 18:20
Mirror (Zerkalo) + pre-recorded intro by Malgorzata Szumowska
Mon 24 May 17:50; Wed 9 Jun 14:30
Syndromes and a Century (Sang sattawat) + pre-recorded intro by Chaitanya Tamhane
Mon 24 May 20:30; Sat 19 Jun 17:50
Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Bú sàn)
Wed 26 May 18:10 (+ intro by Peter Strickland); Wed 2 Jun 20:50
The Gleaners & I (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse) + pre-recorded intro by Zhu Shengze
Thu 27 May 18:15; Fri 26 Jun 14:30
The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet)
Fri 28 May 20:50 (+ intro by Mike Williams, Editor Sight & Sound); Wed 30 Jun 14:30
Sun 30 May 15:40 (+ intro by Sarah Smith); Sat 19 Jun 20:20
The Elephant Man + pre-recorded intro by Prano Bailey-Bond
Tue 15 Jun 17:45; Sat 19 Jun 12:00
Mon 21 Jun 18:00 (+ intro by Asif Kapadia); Mon 28 Jun 14:30
In partnership with
Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.
BECOME A BFI MEMBER
Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at bfi.org.uk/join
We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.
See something different today on player.bfi.org.uk
Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at www.bfi.org.uk/signup
Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email