21 November 2012

Film: White Vengeance (2011)

Thoughts: White Vengeance is far too much story for this little film to hold. While the visuals, sets and outfits are stunning, they are severely hampered by clumsy fight scenes, irritating camerawork and editing, an abundance of information at a rapid-fire pace, and acting that would make wooden dolls seem lively. But my biggest issue and a cardinal sin in martial arts films, is a little thing called Telegraphing. And White Vengeance telegraphs A LOT.

I can't sum up the story well enough, so I'll let imdb do the work:

"White Vengeance tells the story of two brothers contending for supremacy during the fall of the Qin Dynasty, which ruled Imperial China from 221 to 206 BC. As rebels rose, the nation fell into chaos. Liu Bang (Leon Lai) and Xiang Yu (Feng Shaofeng), became leaders of the rebellious army, and also became sworn brothers in battle. Xiang Yu and Liu Bang are close friends who both serve King Huai of Chu. King Huai uses a plot, saying that whoever can subvert the Qin kingdom in Guanzhong would be the Lord Qin, in order to benefit from the competition between Xiang Yu and Liu Bang. Xiang Yu is over-confident. He fights against the main force of Qin army, and entrusts Liu Bang with Yu Ji (Liu Yifei), the woman he loves. Liu Bang expresses his love to Yu Ji and takes the chance to invade Guanzhong first when most of Qin army is outside fighting against Xiang Yu's army. Xiang Yu is furious & betrayed when he found it. Xiang planned to kill Liu at a banquet held in Hong Men, during which Zhang Liang (Zhang Hanyu), the mastermind of Liu Bang, and Fan Zeng (Anthony Wong), the mastermind of Xiang Yu, have a direct confrontation. But who will emerge as the winner from this epic battle and survive to claim their path to the crown?"

Block of text eh. And it barely covers it. Despite the 131min runtime, the film still barrels through so much, with characters popping in (and out) with great fanfare and importance, despite them having zero charisma or personal movement. Yes, even the main characters seem to be acting by rote duty not by choice, which led me down a path of uncaring quite easily. I had no investment in any of the characters, because I frankly could see no motivation. Things just happen, then un-happen. For instance, the two main lovers meet in a teahouse. The young lady is singing a song of her now-conquered people, and an eeeevil with a capital E army dude attacks her, and forces her to disrobe to prove her love for her new rulers. Enter one of the main dudes from upstairs, who basically hits her mid-strip with a "Hey baby, do you like me? You want me to get you out of here?". Sparks fly between them, she whispers "yes" and he beats seven kinds of hell out of the dudes. And then they have an inseparable bond for the rest of the flick, to death's door even. Yup.

Plus, you have all the dudes in the film thinking that grimacing, with permanent death stares and pregnant pauses before EVERYTHING they say, is supposed to relay, what, I don't know, grave importance? That's all of their acting in a nutshell, and it gets real old, real fast.

My biggest disappointment though, is all the Telegraphing. Telegraphing is when in a martial arts film, you see the moves before they happen, because the defenders block or dodge before the move connects (or doesn't connect for that matter). In White Vengeance, practically all of the fights suffer from this big problem. This telegraphing, combined with the strangely slow speed of the fighters, mixes with the terrible hand-held photography and constant slow-mo replays to become both boring and tiresome. It certainly made 2 hours plus seem a hell of a lot longer.

Basically, watch if you like confusing period Asian films with some sub-standard fighting and stone-cold acting, but the requisite pretty visuals and big hats.


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