MY KINGDOM - One More Revenge Tale
MY KINGDOM (drama in Cantonese)
Cast: Wu Chun, Han Geng, Barbie Hsu, Liu Qian, Yuan Biao and Yu Rongguang
Director: Gao Xiaosong
Screenplay by Zou Jingzhi, Gao Xiaosong
Time: 97 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: After Chen Kaige's Sacrifice comes another Chinese effort that works on the theme of revenge. Gao Xiaosong's My Kingdom is set in the 'glamorous' world of Peking opera, with the main part of it based in the tumultuous period of 1920s Shanghai. With Sammo Hung touted as action director, many would expect hot kungfu action - and many would be disappointed.
There is a mixture of genres here, part costume drama, part soap opera, part kungfu flick and with a touch of romance. Those who like twists and turns in the plot would like the second half where the vengeance plot starts to unravel.
SYNOPSIS: During the end of the 19th Century, the Prince Regent of the crumbling Qing Dynasty orders the beheading of the entire Meng clan. Awaiting execution, a five-year-old Meng boy named Er-kui sings an aria. Deeply moved, opera Master Yu Shengying (Yuan Biao) and his seven-year-old pupil Guan Yi-long rescue the boy and the two orphans become as close as brothers. Yu, who wins a coveted golden plaque from the Prince Regent, is challenged to a duel by a Shanghai rival, Yue Jiangtian (Yu Rongguang). He loses and is forced to retire.
Master Yu trains the boys as warriors in the Peking opera and when they 'graduate' Yi-long (now played by Wu Chun) and Er-kui (Han Geng) move to Shanghai to reclaim the coveted plaque from Yue, who, together with his co-star Xi Mu-lan (Barbie Hsu), operate an opera show in the British concession of Shanghai.
HITS & MISSES: Many important scenes are left to our imagination. Er-Kui's rescue at the opening and his revenge sequences are done in quick cuts. The revenge scenes are shown in a series of flying dagger shots followed by newspaper reports announcing the murders. Also, the characters are so poorly defined and portrayed that they appear like caricatures. On the opera stage, the main cast of Wu Chun, Han Geng and Barbie Hsu may get away with unconvincing performances, but not when they are offstage.
There is no chemistry among the trio and the 'brotherhood' of Yi-long and Er-kui smacks of 'Brokeback Mountain' at times. Wu, Han and Taiwan magician Loius Liu Qian were obviously chosen for their looks. However, the biggest miscast is of Liu Qian as General Lu. His performance sticks out like a sore thumb as we would be wondering how he manages to be a police chief at such a young age.
As for Sammo Hung's kungfu choreography, we get two: one at the start of the film between veterans Yuen Biao and Yu Rongguang, and a climactic duel between Er-Kui and Mu-lan in a wine cellar which is more dramatic for its wine spillage than the action. On the plus side, the locations and sets of Shanghai look lavish and fabulous. Ditto that for the opera costumes and music score.
THE LOWDOWN: A messy film punctuated by a few brilliant scenes.