Directed and written by Daniel Lee (Black Mask, Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dagon), White Vengeance is a sprawling epic. It is a visual feast that must have been a joy for the director of photography, Tony Cheung. However, for as pretty as it looks and how expertly staged the action is, despite it being based on actual Chinese history, I found the movie to be more than a little on the dry side and awfully difficult to connect with. Clocking in at well over two hours, it became a bit of an endurance test.
Perhaps I am being a little harsh. I do not mean to imply it is a bad movie; it really isn’t. I suspect some of my perceived shortcomings in the execution may be partially due to my lack of knowledge concerning China’s storied history. It is likely if I had a better working knowledge of Chinese history, I would have gotten more out of the film and been able to be more involved in its characters.
White Vengeance tells the story of the Hongmen Banquet, a pivotal event in the tumultuous time when the Qin Dynasty fell. Xiang Yu (Shaofeng Feng) and Liu Bang (Leon Lai) are generals in the growing insurgent army that formed to overthrow Emperor Qin. They worked in the service of King Huai of Chu, who realized his time on the throne was short and put a plan in place that would pit Xiang Yu and Liu Bang against each other.
King Huai told the men that whoever takes control of Xiangyang City could claim ownership of the Imperial Seal and the throne. This intrigues Xiang Yu who charges Liu Bang with protecting his love, Yu Ji (Yifei Liu), and returning her home in order to protect her for the violent battle that was to come. Problems arise when Liu Bang, at the urgings of his loyal men, instead takes control of the city while Xiang Yu is still occupied fighting the bulk of the Qin army outside Xiangyang.
This pits the two men, once sworn brothers in battle, against each other. Xiang Yu, in an effort to eliminate Liu Bang for his believed treachery, organizes a banquet, the Hongmen Banquet. The intention being to assassinate Liu Bang. Of course, this does not go as planned.
White Vengeance is a dense film with plenty of talking and a lot of characters pulling at the plot strings, manipulating various players for their own gain. The problem, for me, is that I could not keep them straight and none of them made much of an impact on me. I essentially sat there waiting for the next battle to happen to get my interest up.
While the true events the film is based on certainly sound interesting, the translation to the screen is certainly less so. There is a lot going on, but never did I feel involved. I thought there would be more in the form of a love triangle between the two soldiers and Yu Ji, but she does little other than wait around for the guys to stop fighting. The performances were less than exciting as well. Shaofeng Feng and Leon Lai do not exactly make for a charismatic pairing.
The best thing I can say about the movie is that it is always gorgeous to look at. The set design is spectacular and the costumes are nicely detailed. Yes, the story does hold a little interest, but it feels sluggish and uninvolving. I was happy enough to sit and watch the images dance across the screen.