Spring Inn is a lot like Rick’s in Casablanca.
Nobody is shocked to find gambling there, while the resistance rubs shoulders
with the occupiers. King Hu appreciated the dramatic possibilities of a nice isolated
inn, setting three of his classic films within such seedy establishments. Fittingly,
The Fate of Lee Khan, the third and
least widely seen of his so-called “Inn Trilogy,” screens during the BAM
Cinématek’s retrospective, All Hail the King: the Films of King Hu.
since she set up a dice table, “Wendy” Wan Jen-mi’s Spring Inn has crushed the
business of her closest competitor. He does not mind, though, because he is her
superior in the underground opposition to the Mongols. From him she receives
advance warning the dreaded warlord Lee Khan will soon be staying at her inn.
The ruthless prince has intercepted a strategically important map from their
compatriots, so Wan must steal it back. She has just the right staff for the
job: four reformed criminals now working as waitresses. Additional back-up
arrives in the form of lowly scholar Wang Shih-cheng and troubadour Sha
Yuan-shan, who masquerade as Wan’s bookkeeper cousin and his servant.
a fair amount of carousing with the rustic locals, the scene is sufficiently
set for Lee Khan’s arrival and the fighting chops of former pickpocket Hai Mu-tan
are thoroughly established. With the inn closed to all except the staff and the Mongol entourage, the sneaking around begins in earnest.
Fate leans more towards intrigue than
adrenaline-charged smack-downs, but action director Sammo Hung still blocked
out some nice sequences to showcase his good friend Angela Mao. Even though it
is a supporting part, nobody can miss the star power she brings to bear as Hai.
As Wendy, Li Hua-li is hardly anyone’s push over either. In fact, the five
women of Spring Inn vividly demonstrate Hu’s facility for strong “nuxia” swordswomen
of the strangest aspects of Fate is Lee Khan himself. Feng Tien’s portrayal is not so very far removed from Conrad
Veidt’s Maj. Strasser in Casablanca,
oozing cunning and malevolence. Yet, everything he says, such as officials
should live close to the citizens they govern and should hire the most
qualified scholars regardless of ethnicity, makes a good deal of sense. In
fact, it sounds downright progressive for the era. Nonetheless, he is still the
Featuring characters as colorful as their costumes,
The Fate of Lee Khan is a fast-paced
comedic-tragedy that should fully satisfy wuxia connoisseurs. It is important
both as part of Hu’s thematic trilogy and a relatively early turn from Mao
(shortly following Enter the Dragon and
Hapkido), but because life is not
fair, it is hard to find a watchable print with English subtitles and the
original Mandarin dialogue. Since BAM will screen it this Sunday (6/15) as it
should be seen, it ought to be a high priority for Hu and Mao fans during the All Hail the King retrospective, now
underway in Brooklyn.
Labels: Angela Mao, BAM, King Hu, Wuxia