From Chris Fujiwara’s 800-page collection Defining Moments in Movies (London: Cassell, 2007). – J.R.
2003 / Goodbye, Dragon Inn – The shot of the empty auditorium near the end.
Taiwan. Director: Ming-liang Tsai. Original title: Bu san.
Why it’s Key: A minimalist master shows what can be done with an empty movie-theater auditorium.
One singular aspect of Ming-liang Tsai’s masterpiece is how well it plays. I’ve seen it twice with a packed film-festival audience, and both times, during a shot of an empty cinema auditorium, where nothing happens for over two minutes, you could hear a pin drop. Tsai makes it a climactic epic moment.
Indeed, for all its minimalism, Goodbye, Dragon Inn fulfills many agendas. It’s a failed heterosexual love story, a gay cruising saga, a Taiwanese Last Picture Show, a creepy ghost story, a melancholy tone poem, and a wry comedy. A cavernous Taipei movie palace on its last legs is showing King Hu’s 1966 hit Dragon Inn to a tiny audience — including a couple of the film’s stars, who linger like ghosts after everyone else has left — while a rainstorm rages outside. As the martial-arts classic unfolds on the screen, we follow various elliptical intrigues in the theater, such as the limping cashier pining after the projectionist, whom she never sees. Tsai has a flair for imparting a commanding presence to seemingly empty pockets of space and time.
With the cashier, we peer at the end title on the screen. Then, in a shot lasting well over five minutes, the camera faces the empty auditorium as the lights flicker on and she enters with a broom on the right –recording her slow passage up one aisle, across the middle row, and down the other aisle until she exits on the left. Then we linger for two minutes more, communing with silence and eternity.