2 items from 2007
Shanghai Film Studios/Hus Entertainment
Prince of the Himalayas is that rara avis in the world of cinema -- a film that is genuinely new and different.
Shanghai-born director and co-writer Sherwood Hu has adapted Shakespeare's Hamlet to the rugged highlands of ancient Tibet. A cast composed entirely of Tibetan actors, speaking in their own tongue -- a movie first as far as anybody can tell -- gives this exhilarating epic in an authenticity even if the antique world depicted largely is one of the imagination.
Prince was made almost simultaneously with The Banquet (2006), in which one of China's most commercial directors, Feng Xiaogang, adapted the dark tale of the Prince of Denmark to A.D. 907 China. That film was all pomp and flash with an inert story at its core. Hu's version, though, is a vigorous and muscular entertainment that played to enthusiastic sold-out audiences at the recently wrapped AFI Fest. The film certainly plays to American audiences if Hu can hook up with an adventurous distributor.
Unique among Hamlet interpreters, Hu offers a sympathetic portrait of the king's killer, his brother (Dobrgyal), and Hamlet's mother (Zomskyid), who are seen as victims rather than villains. The prince, too, has undergone a major shift in that his quest turns out to be less to determine the killer and seek revenge than a search for his own identity. Purba Rgyal, trained as a singer and dancer but not an actor, attacks the role of the prince with such energy and abandon that he overcomes his lack of experience.
Cinematographers Cheng Yuanhai and Shao Dan move the camera constantly, as if so in awe of the savage landscape and all the gold jewelry and costumes of animal skins and exotic fabrics that it can't stop searching for new wonders. At times, the film overflows with its heated rhetoric and emotions running amok, but Hu's strong emphasis on spirituality breathes life anew into a magnificent old war horse. »
Shanghai International Film Festival
SHANGHAI -- The evocative title might mislead one to imagine Shanghai Red as one of those pre-Liberation epics like A Time to Remember (1998) or a propaganda film about the fiery days of the Cultural Revolution. In fact, the film is an attempt at an Eastern La femme Nikita with an interracial romantic twist set in contemporary Shanghai.
As a U.S.-Chinese co-production with Shanghai Film Group Corp., the film could gain theatrical release in China and draw in crowds curious about how their own city appears in a Hollywood film. Beyond that, some Asian-American festivals also might consider it for their selection.
Vivian Wu (The Pillow Book, Eve and the Fire Horse) plays Meili, an interpreter who becomes an angel of vengeance when her husband is shot dead on his way to sign a joint-venture contract. The appearance of an enigmatic American who claims to be a kind of troubleshooter for companies draws her into a web of deceit, love and guilt.
Still ravishing after all these years, Wu is the biggest interest-sustaining factor in the film. She gives subtle gradations in performance for the three phases and identities in her life but still maintains continuity of personality in spite of the film's more contrived moments, like when Meili slips into a scarlet red cheongsam and dons wide-brimmed Ray-Bans -- that really helps her blend in with the crowd when being tailed by the police on her way to assassinate her adversaries!
Director Oscar Luis Costo (Wu's husband) is a recognized Hollywood producer, so production quality is what one would expect of Hollywood. Costume and production design are thoughtfully consistent, with the film's color schemes of green, red and gray conceived to reflect the three stages and states of mind of the female protagonist.
However, the script is compromised by an attempt to make the film accessible to both American and Asian audiences by throwing together a mixed cast from U.S., Hong Kong and China. Ge You (To Live, The Banquet), a superstar in China, gets only a cameo role as the inscrutable boss, with little to do except look shady. Kenny Bee, once a Hong Kong heartthrob and now a veteran actor, spends most of his time playing a corpse or a ghostly apparition.
Richard Burgi (Hostel: Part II), on the other hand, gets the most screen time as the international love interest. Although he looks the part as the handsome "man of mystery," he and Wu have as much chemistry as a fish and a bicycle. She hits off much better with Sun Honglei (The Road Home, "Zhou Yu's Train"), another well-known Chinese actor who plays her defense lawyer in the film's overlapping narrative.
Although their interaction takes place exclusively in the confined space of a prison, it generates more dramatic tension as the two alternate roles as confessor and confidant, judge and therapist. Yet any attempt at psychological penetration is distracted by all the action, suspense, romance and Shanghai city tours that fill up the film's running time.
Moviegoers who choose this film for a bit of Oriental mystique will get their money's worth, from panoramic views of the Bund to lessons on how to eat xiaolongbao (soup-filled dumpling), with some modern images of snazzy, skyscraper-filled Shanghai thrown in. Those looking for the essence of Shanghai had better stick to Lou Ye's Suzhou River.
MARdeORO Films Inc. USA/Shanghai Film Group Corp.
Director-screenwriter: Oscar Luis Costo
Director of photography: Adam Kane
Producer: Ren Zhonglun
Production designer: Jeff Knipp
Music: Randy Miller
Editor: Josh Muscatine
Zhu Meili: Vivian Wu
Michael Johnson: Richard Burgi
The Lawyer: Sun Honglei
The Boss: Ge You
Running time -- 115 minutes
No MPAA rating
2 items from 2007
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