Biblical echoes are slightly misleading, but not wholly inappropriate. For those present, the notorious Hongmen
Banquet is the betrayal that keeps on betraying. The murky events in question will continue to
haunt the first Han Emperor until his final tormented moments in Lu Chuan’s The Last Supper (trailer here), which screens
today during the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival.
realizes Emperor Gaozu, a.k.a. Liu Bang, is not long for this earth, including
the common-born emperor from Pei County.
However, he is not going out gracefully.
Haunted by nightmares and visions of his past, Liu Bang sees
conspiracies in every shadow. He ought
to know. He reached the throne through
some shrewdly timed treachery. Once
sworn allies with Lord Yu and General Xin, he has killed the former and
imprisoned the latter to solidify his hold on the throne.
Bang has not exactly been scrupulously faithful to his wife, the Empress Lü Zhi
either. Regardless, she will act ruthlessly
to protect his legacy. The empress
decides it is time to be well rid of Xin once and for all, but his prominence
and his highly placed friends in court provide him a slim measure of protection.
we are quite fortunate to have Last
Supper screening at NYAFF, considering its release was held up for four
months by government censors. It is not
hard to see what troubled the obedient apparatchiks. Even a bureaucrat could pick up on the film’s
“absolute power corrupts absolutely” implications. This is the high tragedy of a man who gains an
empire but loses his humanity (a point that also emerges, albeit somewhat less
forcefully, in Daniel Lee’s White Vengeance, which also dramatizes the circumstances surrounding the Hongmen
Lu, this represents a dramatic change of pace from his stark portrayal of
Japanese war crimes in City of Life and Death. Obviously less politically
correct for the powers that be, Supper is
further differentiated by a feverish atmosphere that often approaches the
outright demonic. Yet, it is also a
grand period production, with enough imposing sets and palace guard extras to
satisfy Cecil B. DeMille.
Supper is also notable
for the geographically diverse casting of the main triumvirate that surely
ought to pay dividends at the respective box offices. Mainlander Liu Ye nicely portrays the raging
paranoia of Liu Bang’s twilight years without descending to shtick or
gimmicks. Hong Kong super-star Daniel Wu
captures the nobility of the tragic Lord Yu, while Taiwanese Chang Chen is
impressively steely as General Xin. Nonetheless,
Qin Lan (Lu’s wife and frequent collaborator) dominates the film with her
spellbinding Lady Macbeth-like portrayal of Lü Zhi.
The strangely timely Supper comes as a welcome rebuttal to Chinese films like Hero or The Guillotines that celebrate or at least excuse strong
centralized authority. Lu’s vision of
Liu Bang clearly suggests the emperor’s madness and absolute power are two
sides of the same coin. In addition to
its challenging subtext, The Last Supper also
happens to be an excellent film, well worth seeing for its striking look and
Qin Lan’s commanding performance. Highly
recommended, it screens tonight (7/7) and Wednesday afternoon (7/10) at the
Walter Reade as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Lu Chuan, NYAFF '13