Modern China is a mystery to most people, not to mention the foreigners. Ancient China is an even more complicated concept and it has nothing to do with communism at all. The Chinese civilization is one of the most ancient in the world and that translates to lots of stories, facts and interpretation of events.
This is a movie about a real event some 2200+ years ago (around 206 BC). The event, literally translated to Hongmen Banquet is one which took place outside Xianyang (the capital of then Qin Dynasty, if you do remember, the 1st Qin Emperor is that horror emperor who killed many and had the Great Wall built). Xianyang still exist and is now where the airport to the city Xian is located. Xian is where you'd head if you want to view those terracotta warriors!
So, if you can have all these remembered, it's already complicated enough, no? Well, the many historical events and relevance which the Asian movie industry had introduced to the viewers in the past few decades had not just us Chinese confused and bewildered. One has to be a historical buff to get the facts and dates and characters right. I'm not one such person. In other words, before you go to the movie, read up on the Hongmen Banquet event first!
The 2 central character in this movie is Liu Bang & Xiang Yu. If you prefer to know exactly what happened, read the historical background. I didn't but I had seen versions of this story in the past so with all that I know, bits and pieces of history, I was able to follow the film. What is different this time though is what I feel worth mentioning. That the Chinese movie industry is beginning to portray a movie focusing on basic human emotions and underlying motivations. At least that's what I choose to think after seeing a few of the recent movies. Perhaps the directors and producers have had more exposure to Western film making or perhaps there are more similarities between the East and the West now than in the past. Despite cultural differences, humans are still humans regardless.
There are only 2 basic points I took away with this film. One being trust (in relationships) and another being people tend to change after they took power. On the sideline, women are often made a pawn, especially in the Asian societies (even today). Let me elaborate a little, the film portrayed a chess game (numerous games but by 2 players concurrently with the 2 players being Liu's and Xiang's advisers respectively). The two advisers are expert chess players and they each helped in masterminding their masters' success in battles and wars. This bring to mind The Art of War while I was going through the movie.
Intelligent people are often also suspicious people. They tend think too much, if you ask me. The story went on to depict a loss of trust between both Xiang's and his adviser and later Liu's and his advisers respectively. Ultimately, who won the game? No one! This is game where both parties lost with Xiang's death and Liu's ascent to become the first emperor of the Han Dynasty. The lose/lose situation extends beyond the chess game. It tells us that as soon as the seed of distrust is implanted into a relationship, nothing will make the relationship right again. Both the main characters lost partly due to the two advisers counter-planting the seed of distrust into the relationships between the masters and the advisers. Masters betraying advisers really (and not quite the reverse although it'd appear so).
What I also find stimulating is not just the portrayal of the chess game at the banquet but also how a woman can be so smart back then. At least from my perspective she's smart. The mentioned is Consort Yu. She first met Xiang and agreed to be his "wife" when he rescued her. But she was later entrusted to Liu's care (to take her back to safety) with Liu ended up making her his woman instead. At a later stage, Liu actually sent her to Xiang again when he was in a compromised position. She did go willingly. Now, at the end of the story, for those who are interested in romance, you'd ask, who is she actually in love with? Frankly, it may appear to be Xiang but what I find interesting is that even when Liu won and she was back to his side, she decided to kill herself and die at the side of Xiang. Does that mean she loved him? Well, I choose to think that regardless who she loved, at the end, she died having Xiang's eternal love and Liu's regret. That's an "intelligent" move from a woman's perspective. She might died young but even if she returned to Liu, she won't be anyone of much consequence to him as soon as he became an emperor. Don't forget that Chinese emperors have thousands of concubines and she being a woman who had been with Liu's enemy, does anyone seriously think Liu would have treasured her after he became the man of power? I doubt it. By dying, she had both men remembering and loving her eternally. That to me is a brilliant move on her part!
So, even just a summary is complicated enough. Imagine all that was going on in the event and history itself! As the movie progresses, I found myself drawing parallels between real life and history. For some reasons, I've been reading more and more into history with my book reading like Civilization by Niall Ferguson and his six killer apps. What I truly find fascinating is how "illusions" (as in the movie, thereby not my reality) and reality intermingles and becomes a unified whole. In that sense this is a movie that's worth more than 2 hours of my time!
In today's world, the people of different countries are beginning to lose trust in their respective governments. That in essence is a dangerous situation which may affect world stability. Will that be for the good of the society at large? Well, it depends. All I do know is we are in transition and anything can happen! With that in mind, this movie poses some thought provoking moments.
Lastly, the movie is long but the direction is good (at least to me it is) so it kept me focused and engaged. Nonetheless, one needs to know the historical background to truly enjoy the movie.
A reasonably good rendition of historical drama (206 BC! Qin Dynasty & founding of Han Dynasty) with Liu Bang ending as Emperor. What is interesting is not the history but the portrayal of the drama itself. Interestingly, this movie also "dictates" that people who come to power don't change much, no matter how much time has passed! A little bit of historical background is needed to actually understanding what is really happening in this movie. It … more