Director: Daniel Lee
Starring: Leon Lai, Feng Shaofeng, Hanyu Zhang, Liu Yifei, Anthony Wong, Jordan Chan, Andy On, Qing Xiu
White Vengeance recounts the well known tale of the Feast at Hongmen. A warring states tale of warlords and land grabs that has multiple iterations as film, television series, and stage productions. The period action film seems to be on the rise in Chinese cinema these days. It seems that everywhere you turn, some established director and actor has some sword and shield epic around the corner at the cinema. Personally, I am able to really get into this genre of filmmaking. Reminding me of the period films of the 90s, but with much better looking visual panache, these new films tend to offer a solid production and much higher success rate than those 90s super quick produced films. Featuring a cast of established and rising stars, can this new big budget version bring anything fresh to the table?
Leon Lai, a superstar overseas, has never really appealed to me as an actor. He has always felt like a bit like a cold fish and seemed to rely more on his name than real acting talent. He does a more than solid job as Liu Bang. Demonstrating good range and inner turmoil, I was quite surprised to see this side of the actor. Feng Shaofeng is also good as Xiang Yu. He gives the legendary man a ferocity in battle and surprising tenderness with his love, Lady Yuyi. The supporting cast turns in good performances as well, with Jordan Chan, a personal favorite, in one of his few period appearances. Anthony Wong and Liu Yifei are solid in their roles, but are clearly overshadowed by a stellar performance by Zhang Hanyu. He steals the show and was by far my favorite character. Andy On makes a brief appearance to kick some butt as he is wont to do.
The production value of the film is high. Ornate and distinctive costumes help to clearly establish the look of the period and massive indoor sets look and feel epic. Outdoor scenes typically feature action of some sort and while the CGI is not great, it does the job. I did not care for the weightlessness of the cavalrymen during big battle sequences; it took me out of the film a bit. The soundtrack is appropriately meditative and grand in scale. Setting the mood quite well, composer Henry Lai creates a pretty memorable score with good highs and lows to correspond with the characters swaying moods. Overall, the presentation of the film is top notch.
The strength of the film is in its visual style. At its core a mystery and an analysis of these two popular figures, White Vengeance takes viewers into the life of these friends turned rivals. With grand action and solid swordplay, the film has plenty to offer the action fan, but the real strength of the film is in the psychological games played by the characters in order to get the upper hand. The manipulations and moves taken by pretty much all characters feels a bit like Shakespearean work crossed with Zhuge Liang. Sun Tze would be proud.Overall I was quite surprised by how into the film I was considering my predisposition towards Leon Lai. It is a very entertaining and uniquely told story that, despite having been told numerous times already, somehow earns a good new re-telling.
Special Thanks to Well Go Entertainment for providing a viewing copy!