Thursday, September 09, 2010

WHEAT - Interesting Insights Into Warring States

WHEAT (war drama in Mandarin)
Cast: Fan Bingbing, Huang Jue, Du Jiayi, Wang Zhiwen and Wang Ji
Director: He Ping
Writer: He Ping
Time: 108 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Huang Jue (left) and co-star in WHEAT

Perhaps it has been quite a while since I have watched an artistic film. Perhaps, after being su
bjected to mindless action of summer fares like Resident Evil: Afterlife, a 'quiet' war drama is a welcome change, but I find myself getting excited and interested minutes into Wheat. Contrary to the imagery that the title paints, Wheat is not a documentary - it is a war 'dramedy' quite like Jackie Chan's Little Big Soldier...

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Wheat is set in a little town of Lu Yi when the states of Zhao and Qin are at war. Lord Ju Cong (Wang Xueqi), the master of Lu Yi in Zhao state, is getting married to his young and beautiful bride Li (Fan Bingbing) when he receives the crucial orders from the Zhao king: He must rally every man and child above 12 and report for war against the Qin at once. This leaves all the women 'home alone' in the towns and vasts fields of wheat all waiting to be harvested.

On the war front, an elite Qin warrior named Xia (Huang Jue) deserts his post to get back to his village so that he can harvest his crops. On the way he meets Zhe (Du Jiayi), another deserter from the Qin army. Knowing fully well that the penalty for deserters is death by beheading, they do their utmost to flee their pursuers - including plunging headlong into a river. They end up in Luyi - where they tell the lonely women the news they are longing to hear: that they are victorious Zhao warriors returning home.

HITS & MISSES: Director He Ping, who gave us the Warriors Of Heaven And Earth in 2003, takes a change in pace to let his audience linger and 'smell the roses'. He treats us to beautiful shots of golden fields of wheat dancing in the wind, and of breath-taking landscapes. In the same vein, he also drags some of the sequences, especially scenes of the deserters at Lu Yi, to the point of boredom and annoyance.

The story spans five days (ostensibly labelled after the natural elements of Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth) but it feels much longer than that. However, the proceedings are spiced with humour provided by the large female cast of extras and by Du Jiayi who is allowed to ham his way through the movie. Huang Jue's portrayal of the protagonist is more controlled and acceptable but this is definitely Fan Bingbing's (pictured) vehicle. As the 'matriarch' of Lu Yi, she is both commanding and beautiful. And her wedding night scenes are both ravishing and memorable.

THE LOWDOWN: A delightful insight into the Warring States era of China.


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