Dragon Gate Inn
That's the style of Chinese cinema known as wuxia, and it became a worldwide audience favorite with the balletic, acrobatic melees in Ang Lee's 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. On November 3 at the U-M Center for Chinese Studies, you can see the movie that inspired Lee: director King Hu's Dragon Gate Inn.
This 1967 movie about the eunuch agents of an emperor clashing with the rebellious family of a rival executed for treason was the original wuxia film and inspired many remakes, knock-offs, and imitators. Though later films had the advantage of advanced technical tricks that would render them more seamless and realistic, none could match the operatic intensity of Hu's classic, a huge cult phenomenon in the Far East.
The explosive battles and swordplay take place in the fifteenth century, in and around a large country inn. The government's eunuch militiamen plan to ambush the exiled relatives of the general whose brutal beheading we've seen in a prologue, before the opening credits. These mercenaries, we're told, have formidable martial arts skills and brutal sensibilities; in one of many amusingly mangled English subtitles, it's said that "people are petrified of their notoriousness." We soon see why, as they casually slay some of the inn's workers for minor acts of impudence.