Starring: Leon Lai Ming, Feng Shaofeng, Liu Yifei, Zhang Hanyu, Anthony Wong Chau-sang
Director: Daniel Lee Yan-kong
Category: IIB (Cantonese)
It should go without saying that when tackling an historical Chinese episode that has been done to death, a novel approach is required. But that is what is lacking in director-writer Daniel Lee Yan-kong's epic interpretation of the 'Hongmen Banquet', a momentous event over two millennia ago that proved pivotal in the Qin dynasty's demise and the founding of the Han.
Rival generals Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, his concubine Yu Ji, and their entourages have figured in such diverse motion pictures as Shanghai's The Autocrat of Chou (1939), the Cantonese opera picture Tale of Two Kingdoms (1957), and more recently in The Great Conqueror's Concubine (1994).
In other words, Lee has quite an act to follow. In terms of production values, this version is second to none. The director's flair for visual magnificence is on ample display. Less admirable is the movie's ponderous dialogue and an irritatingly guitar-heavy score.
This could perhaps be tuned out were it not for a seemingly endless narrative and the fact that at times White Vengeance feels like a dramatic black hole. The script's most interesting concept is placing its titular banquet climax in the middle. A worthy centerpiece, its effect is blunted by the draggy hour that follows.
The battle scenes choreographed by Yuen Tak are skilfully staged but so numerous that they quickly assume a numbing sameness. This impression is heightened by leads Leon Lai Ming (as Liu Bang) and Feng Shaofeng (Xiang Yu) demonstrating little personality. Given even less chance to shine is Yu Ji (Liu Yifei, above with Lai), the sole female role of importance and here reduced to little more than an emotionally generic damsel in distress.
Faring better are the generals' confidantes, notably Xiang's blind advisor Fan Zeng (Anthony Wong Chau-sang) and his equivalent in the Liu camp, Zhang Liang (Zhang Hanyu), along with spunky comrade-in-arms Fan Kuai (Jordan Chan Siu-chun).
In the Cantonese-dubbed soundtrack for Hong Kong release, the distinctive voices of Wong and Chan infuse these parts with a degree of individuality and spark of magnetism in short supply elsewhere in the saga.
White Vengeance opens today