Thoughts on Daniel Lee’s White Vengeance

Just another cheap historical epic from HK director Daniel Lee?

In China, two rebellious leaders want to overthrow the dying dynasty in power. The Hongmen banquet will be the turning point, determining who will be the next Emperor…

SAME PLAYER SHOOTS AGAIN

Remember the year 2008, while John Woo was busy shooting his epic masterpiece Red Cliff, another production took the opportunity to tell the same story, different budget, different casting: Three Kingdoms, written and directed by none other than Daniel Lee!

Few years later, similar situation. Lee is taking care of White Vengeance, the film is based on the Hongmen banquet, just like Lu Chuan’s The Last Supper. Strange competition, Lee may have a decent budget & casting, but it seems he’s once again ready to direct the tasteless & uninspired version of what looks like an amazing story. Just needs the good storyteller..?

The bad guy, and its counselor (explaining what's going on in the film)

CONFUSION

Visually, the film looks good. The lighting of the inside scenes is carefully done, and the digital visual effects give epic proportions to the outside sequences. Yet, the film becomes rapidly confusing. The main reasons? The difficulties to introduce/present the whole story.

You must keep in mind that the Hongmen banquet is all about treason, politics, power struggle, manipulation… It’s a real chess game where characters have to guess/prevent what’s going to happen, in order to achieve their goals. And it’s hard to get to that point when characters have been poorly introduced & developed: their relationships or motives are not clear, the film tends to explain everything that wasn’t developed previously… It’s too weak to give a solid film.

The main event: this is the banquet!

WAR FOR DUMMIES

What about action scenes? You can enjoy some of the swordfights, which are almost always the best parts of the big digital battles. But then, it’s Daniel Lee directing: it’s often hard to understand what’s happening on screen, the camera is shaking, the editing job is confusing, the fast/slow-mo combo isn’t the best idea… Hopefully, outside of the battles, the action scenes can be quite enjoyable. One last thing, during the banquet the chess game (or GO) between the counselors is directed like a fight, with some terrible effects though – the whole “hairs in the wind” idea is ridiculous.

In fact, White Vengeance is more of a drama with too much dialogues, where counselors explain everything about the story, clarifying almost every situation. While the two military chiefs are just listening and trying to understand what’s going on. By the way, the counselors are possibly the most interesting characters here, they can manipulate & have some responsibilities they actually understand. The other characters are just too simplistic, with uninteresting plot lines – like the romance, it’s useless most of the film, and ultimately used to create this naive supposed-to-be-touching scene…

CHEAP VENGEANCE

White Vengeance is a flat epic film, lost in some unexciting plot lines instead of exploring & developing the possibilities of this Hongmen banquet story. It’s clumsy, way too long – 130min – with a lack of thematic ambition. I’m curious to see what Lu Chuan (City of Life & Death) is going to do with this subject! — 3.5/10.



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