Da wu sheng (2011) Poster

(2011)

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Beautiful sets and location but slipshod storytelling
changmoh10 September 2011
Gao Xiaosong's "My Kingdom" is set in the 'glamorous' world of Chinese 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.

The film opens at the end of the 19th Century, when 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.

Many important scenes are left to our imagination. Er-Kui's rescue at the opening and his revenge sequences are done in super quick cuts. Actually the 'rescue' scene is non-existent while the revenge scenes are shown in a series of flying dagger shots followed by newspaper reports announcing the murders. 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. (limchangmoh.blogspot.com)
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A film of two disparate halves- one very excellent first, and one terribly dreadful second
moviexclusive29 August 2011
Director and co-writer Gao Xiaosong's 'My Kingdom' is meant to be a lavish period action drama set around the Peking opera, and for the first half of the movie, it accomplishes just what it promises. Unfortunately, there's another half to the film, and it is this that you're likely to remember once you step out of the cinema. No thanks to Gao and co-writer Zou Jingshi's overplotting and Gao's clumsy direction, this other half is a complete utter mess and a testament to how something so beautiful can fall apart so dramatically.

Beginning with an extended prologue which introduces the audience to two rival operatic masters- Yu (Yuen Biao) and Yue (Yu Rongguang), the movie charts the ups and downs of two students of Master Yu- Yi-Long and Er- Kui, as played by Wu Chun and Han Geng respectively. After Yue's unannounced contest for the title of 'The Mightiest Warrior' leads to Yu's humiliating defeat and his subsequent retirement, Yi-long and Er- kui make it their mission to avenge their master following the completion of their training.

So they travel to Shanghai to challenge Master Yue at his very theatre, and proceed to engage with Yue and the rest of his troupe in a thrilling duel that is the undisputed highlight of the entire movie. Indeed, this exhilarating sequence combines the dexterity of Sammo Hung's action choreography with Gino Xie's lush costumes and Yang Yaoyu's beautiful production design to deliver a truly awesome acrobatic display, complemented by Kwong Ting Wo and Lam Wah Chuen's deft cinematography and some nifty editing by Christopher Blunden. Each of the crew here deserves mention for this sequence alone, and it is pure magic to see their individual touches unite to form a magnificent tapestry.

Nonetheless, this sequence also proves to be one of the reasons for the film's undoing later on, for it sets its audience up for something lofty which the rest of the movie fails to deliver. Yes, after allowing Yi- long and Er-kui to fulfil their quest of regaining their master's honour halfway into the film, it isn't sure what else to let these characters do. So Gao and Zou turn Yi-long into an arrogant philanderer and Er-kui into an assassin going after the Prince Regent's sons (the Prince was responsible for the death of his family and their village when he was young) while falling in love with Xi Mulan (Barbie Hsu), Yue's protégé cum lover.

As if that wasn't enough, they also bring in a powerful Mayor figure (played by popular magician Liu Qian) whose allegiances are never quite clear. It takes skill to juggle all these disparate characters and plot threads together and yet be able to make sense of it all at the end, but neither Gao nor Zou have that ability. Instead, we kid you not when we say it all becomes a shocking mess, as Gao jumps from one scene to another without proper continuity, and the characters (especially Mulan) are defined so poorly at the end it simply becomes laughable.

Even worse is Gao's propensity for melodrama, straining for some grand irony in what he hopes is a complex 'web of love, lust, deceit and betrayal'. Unfortunately, there is little gravity in the proceedings, and one is left baffled at his ignorance at how spectacularly his film crumbles apart. His actors aren't as daft, but their compensation in the form of over-acting only makes it more pathetic. Granted that Wu Chun and Han Geng were probably chosen more for their looks than for their acting, but the good work that both put in is sadly wasted by the time the film gets past the halfway mark.

Those looking to see more of Sammo Hung's action work will also be disappointed- after the breathtaking showcase described early on, there is only one more action sequence to come, and that set in a wine cellar between Er-Kui and Mulan is nothing to shout about. Those looking to learn more about the fading cultural art form that is Peking opera will also likely be let down- Gao and Zou get so caught up in trying to spin their web of intrigue that they forget to spend any more time on the very reason people are drawn to their movie, and the second half is surprisingly devoid of operatic scenes.

By the time the curtains draw to a close, what began so promisingly will probably have faded into oblivion, and in its place a feeling of incredulity at the dreadful plotting and incompetent direction on such prominent display. If you're a fan of Peking opera, or curious to see what the best of it looks like, we recommend you leave right after Yi- long and Er-kui defeat Master Yue- there's nothing after that worth your time.
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3/10
HK Neo Reviews: My Kingdom
webmaster-301721 November 2011
My Kingdom fails big time because the director forgotten the cutting floor. The film suffers from poor pacing, editing and everything associated with the production room. It is the kind of film that is beautiful to look at, namely the actors, the actress and the surrounding 1920s Shanghai backdrop, but comes off empty and unfulfilling. You know there is a problem when you enter the film with zero expectations and still managed to be disappointed. It is all the more disappointing when you realise an actress in the calibre of Barbie Hsu is suitably wasted and probably the best thing to happen in the film. There is no ongoing debate as to the other two male leads in Wu Chun and Han Geng as neither can act above their restricted wooden facial expressions and range. Fans of old school kung fu cinema can rejoice in seeing veteran Yuen Biao and Yu Rong-Guang gracing the screen in the opening minutes, but its all downhill from there. All in all, My Kingdom does not feel like a complete film, but rather an episode of happenings here and there. The plot is unbelievable and the acting is non-existent. Barbie Hsu has done better works and even the action sequences directed by Sammo Hung cannot save this Kingdom from sinking into hell…

Neo rates it 3/10

  • www.thehkneo.com
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6/10
Aknock off of Farewell My Concubine
emuir-115 December 2013
I gave the film a 6 because of its beautiful overall appearance and the Chinese Opera scenes, which was what drew me to watch the movie. I loved 'Farewell My Concubine' and have watched it countless times, but despite shamelessly borrowing a similar love triangle and plot structure from 'concubine' was forgettable within the half hour it will take me to read the reviews and compose my own.

To begin with, the film was set in 1920's Shanghai, but the glamorous young actors had today's Japanese animation hairstyles, especially General Lu, who must have been the youngest General in the entire police force and whose youthful appearance seriously undermined the film. Next, the martial arts was just plain distracting and again, out of sync with the period. Just because you can fly through the air and run up walls on wires does not mean that you should - I was expecting Jackie Chan to burst in at any time. You can have Peking Opera films and you can have martial arts/chop socky, but the two don't mix well - as if you had mixed a classical piano concerto with boogie woogie. The fight scenes in Peking Opera are very ritualistic, precise and stylised.

Last was the tortuously convoluted plot which required me to keep flipping back to earlier scenes on the DVD to see if I had missed something. Perhaps the English subtitles had left a lot of explanation out of the translation, but it was very hard to figure out what was going on, and because of this dramatic tension was completely lost. A major plot twist, which later turned out to be a red herring, was obvious right from the start, and the big reveal of the red herring was dropped as casually as if someone had accepted a cup of tea, thanks. Overall, the ending wrapped up too hastily with no tension or drama.

Perhaps this was intended to be a teen age flick where no one expected them to follow the plot as they would be too busy swooning over the handsome leads. Maybe taking back the film and recutting it might make a difference, but as it stands it is a wasted opportunity - a teenage Bugsy Malone.
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5/10
My Kingdom was easily better than 60% of American movies.
lesserdevil21 December 2011
This movie is a lot better than the other reviews might lead you to believe. I'm not sure what the other reviewers expected. If anything the movie suffered because it had greater ambitions than it could possibly live up to, but the overall viewing experience was not conspicuously unpleasant. The choice for General Lu was the biggest flaw of the film. Many problems existed, but none of them crippled the entertainment value of the film. Most of the other problems were easy to ignore.

International cinema fans have been spoiled by the above average quality of the movies that come our way. Hollywood has such a stranglehold on the industry that foreign directors face a much higher artistic standard to become successful here. Because of that so many really magnificent pictures have come out of Asia in the past ten years. To become commercially successful on this side of the Pacific requires nothing less. When a movie like My Kingdom comes along and it is merely entertaining instead of a virtuoso production the criticism leveled against it can be less than fair.
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