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I'm not sure if my summary "line" constitutes an oxymoron but anyway, anyone who has watched director LU Chuan's brilliant debut "Kekexili" (2004) knows that he is uncompromising when it comes to the artistic style of his work. Arguably the most dramatic epic in Chinese ancient history is the titanic struggle between LIU Bang and XIANG Yu which many consider to have started at the Feast at Hong Gate which, arguably again, is the most famous single dramatic event in Chinese ancient history. This story has seen almost countless screen presentations in the Chinese language cinema. Quite predictably, all these attempts wound up in lush entertaining packages, from unabashedly melodramatic to somewhat more tasteful work. Yet, nobody has done what Lu did.
Anchored in LIU at his deathbed, having enjoyed his hard-won kingdom but not without a few regrets (albeit he probably still did it his way), the story unfolds in snapshots of short flashback scenes juxtaposing in an almost chaotic way between characters and events. For instance, the famous Feast at Hong Gate keeps coming back, from time to time, but each time with added perspective. The expected treacheries, betrayals, ruthless cruelties are all there in this, to borrow a critic so aptly borrowed himself, "game of thrones". However, LU adds another dimension all of his own, close to the end. Allegorical in no uncertain terms, he spares no pain in telling the story of how people in power falsify history. It is almost a miracle that this segment survives uncensored.
The cast is uniformly brilliant. The three top-billed are superstars from the three most prominent Chinese ethnic communities. LIU Ye (Mainland China) portrays the founder of the Han Dynasty (who might have even been an ancient ancestor of his from a score of centuries ago). Cast somewhat against type is Daniel Wu (Hong Kong) who portrays a most macho hero in history you can name, XIANG Yu. The third of this tripod is Taiwan's CHANG Chen who plays the brilliant general and strategist HAN Xin, whose fate is tragically interwoven with the other two's. QIN Lan is as chilling a dark queen as you can get, making Lady Macbeth look like Cinderella. ZHANG Liang, historically just as important (and some would say more so) as HAN is given a cool observer's role in this film, ably portrayed by QI Dao. SHA Yi has his moment toward the end as XIAO He, another of the emperor's key advisors who finds himself plunging into a bottomless pit of lies.
"The last supper" will likely disappoint some who are looking for conventional entertainment. Those with the appetite for an exceptional piece of filmmaking will be vastly entertained, albeit not in the conventional way.
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