Sometimes I wish I had the resources to travel around the world to the great film festivals. Heck, sometimes I wish I had the time and money to explore the international film festival that takes place in my own backyard! (I’m only going to one film in this year’s Seattle International Film Festival this year, and I’m not happy about it at all.)

Fortunately, I have friends who do travel to festivals, and I hear firsthand from them about the films I’m missing, films I’ll later look up on DVD.

Thus, I knew to be watching for Goodbye, Dragon Inn on DVD. And sure enough, it’s worth every quiet, haunting moment.

Tsai Ming-liang’s 81-minute mood piece is 2004’s quietest, most watchful film. And it rewards only the most patient viewers by quietly, secretively revealing a complicated web of stories and some surprises that will make the hair on your arms stand up.

If you’re not really watching, if you’re not really thinking through the details of what you see, you’re likely to think it’s just a boring bunch of footage taken in an old movie theatre.

But believe me, there’s a lot going on in that almost-empty theatre.

First of all, there’s the movie… King Hu’s 1966 martial arts film Dragon Inn . You see pieces of that film playing before the cavernous auditorium, but most of the time you just hear it in the background, sometimes just resonating through the walls… walls that sound like they’re bending and about to collapse. In fact, the whole building is groaning with vibrations, shudders, and echoes that just might come from ghosts. There’s a torrential rainstorm going on outside that never lets up, and you get the feeling it might be the rain that finishes off this old theatre.

Meanwhile, a limping ticket-stamper and custodian makes her labored way through the labyrinth of corridors and stairways, yearning for an encounter with the handsome projectionist who has other things on his mind.

A Japanese tourist is in the theatre for much more than the movie… he’s hoping to find a quick and easy homosexual connection, and with some of the suspicious characters lurking in the shadows, he just might.

There’s a young boy and his grandfather. There are others who seem half-interested in the show. And there are a dozen amusingly awkward encounters between patrons.

A lot of films have celebrated the power of movies. This one celebrates the whole experience of movie-going… the kind of joy that involves the architecture of the theatre, the sticky floors, the way people glance at each other for eating too noisily. But it’s also much more than that. It’s about loneliness, about our dreams and our disappointing realities, about being lost and yearning to be found.

So there I go, back to my Best of 2004 list, to revise it all over again.

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