Film Reviews
Photo from Dragon Inn.  Photo courtesy of Janus Films.

Webster University’s Tuesday evening East Asian series continues in February with two more iconic treasures. First up, February 13, Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1964 “Woman in the Dunes” hits with the force of an inspired morality tale presented in beautiful, atmospheric black-and-white.

Adapted by Kōbō Abe from his novel, the plot finds stranded entomologist Junpei, seeking a rare beetle, agreeing to spend the night with a widow who lives in a hut confined in a sand pit. The next morning, Junpei finds the rope ladder gone, his escape impossible, and local villagers participating in his captivity. The struggle for survival, the strategies devised, and the resistance to resignation make this a psychologically and emotionally complex interrogation of human nature. Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and for Best Director for Teshigahara, “Woman in the Dunes” is immensely memorable Japanese New Wave avant-garde. 

Tuesday, February 20, Taiwanese based writer/director King Hu visits Ming Dynasty China in “Dragon Inn,” set in 1457 A.D. A wuxia film, that is, a historical fantasy of martial arts and chivalry, ruthless, feared eunuchs govern through devious tactics and relentless violence, powerfully demonstrated in the opening scene as Minister of Defense Yu Qian is executed, his children banished to Dragon Gate. There innkeeper General Wu and Xiao Shao-zi, a loyal subject, fight to save the children of the legitimate, beheaded minister. Another expert brother and sister team will aid in their defense.

Powerfully staged and effectively edited sword fights, involving men and women, dominate the action juxtaposed with brief, quieter exchanges. The depraved Eastern Depot soldiers relish their reputation for evil, vicious behavior. But, as their leader says, they also pay very well, thereby pitting mercenaries against principled soldiers. “Dragon Inn” delivers an iconic wuxia genre masterpiece.      Both films have English subtitles and screen at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday evening only.  For more information, you may visit the film series website.

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