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August 30, 2012

White Vengeance

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Hong men yan
Daniel Lee - 2011
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

The Chinese title refers to the meeting place between two former allies, turned rivals, fighting for political and military power, approximately two hundred years B.C. The English title would be a symbolic reference to the colored pieces of the game Weiqi, also known as Go, the Chinese game of strategy using identical black and white "stones". This is a historical drama with several big battle scenes, but the heart of the film is about the strategy used by the principal characters.

The basic story is not well known, even for Chinese audiences. Essentially Liu Bang and Xiang Yu are leaders of their respective armies. When they realize they have a common enemy in the Qin feudal lord, they join forces. It is also understood that whomever conquers the city of Guanzhong first is entitled to claim a royal title. Both men have their reasons for wanting to claim the throne. What follows is gamesmanship with exchanges of power, and a variety of shifting alliances.

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This film might be considered something of a companion piece to Daniel Lee's Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon from 2008. The main difference is that some of the battles are off the field with the games of weiqi, and discussions of loyalties and protocol. More so than some of the other Chinese films I've seen, White Vengeance might require a bit more attention from western viewers as the historical details and cultural aspects might strike some as arcane.

More easily understood is the relationship between Xiang Yu and his wife, Yu Ji. No matter that Xiang Yu and Liu Bang have sworn to kill each other, they are both protective of Yu Ji. And don't be surprised if the actress who plays Yu Ji, Liu Yi Fei, becomes the next Chinese actress to become an international star. Miss Liu is so cute that it just seems right that CGI cherry blossoms swirl around her.

The supplemental interview with Daniel Lee is helpful in gaining a bit more historical context to the film. One of the stars, Anthony Wong, also adds some interesting insight regarding cultural differences between Chinese and westerners. As befitting a historical epic, White Vengeance was nominated for the costume design for the Asian Film Awards and the Hong Kong Film Awards. Daniel Lee was also nominated for his production design. Lee certainly takes advantage of the mountain and desert settings, as well as the several very large armies that fight each other on the otherwise desolate landscape. Very fitting is when Xiang Yu and Yu Ji realize that they may not have much of a future to look forward to, and the space in front of them is wide open and empty.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 30, 2012 07:29 AM


I have only seen Daniel Lee's 14 Blades in 2010 (the same of Reign of Assassins) and after that, I have come to the conclusion that Daniel Lee movies are a pure waste of time and money.

Posted by: Greg L at September 2, 2012 02:08 AM