Kingdom and the Beauty, The
Hong Kong 1959
Directed by Li Han-Hsiang.

The Ming Emperor Taicheng ruled for one month in 1620, then dropped dead. Rumor has it he passed away from sexual exhaustion after being "served" by eight women at the same time. While this sounds like great fodder for a movie of director Li Han-Hsiang's later career as a soft-porn director, this movie actually came along at the height of his reputable, early period, a lavish Huangmei Opera movie about a frustrated young Emperor, feeling trapped in the palace, who gets out and falls in love with a young beauty of Nanjing.

The restless Emperor (Chao Lei) hears the ladies are prettier south of the Yangtze river and heads down clandesinely, where he runs into the beautiful Li Feng(Linda Lin Dai), and falls in love immediately. He woos her, and the usual light romantic comedy ensues, until at last he gets in her room with her alone one night and they make love. In the morning, the troops arrive to pick him up and the gig is up. She realizes he is the Emperor, he realizes he has to return to the palace, but vows to call for her soon. "Don't call me, I'll call you."

Back at the palace, the Empress Dowager throws all manner of pretty dancing girls at the Emperor and pretty soon he clean forgets all about that pretty southern girl. Li Feng has a harder time forgetting, as she is pregnant with his child, ostrasized by the community for having a child out of wedlock, and goes nearly mad from sorrow. She takes an overdose of sleeping pills and,, wait, that's not right. Confusing her real life with her acting life, something perhaps that, in the end, Lin Dai did herself.

KINGDOM AND THE BEAUTY was a huge hit. Chao Lei, a specialist in Emperor roles, assays one again and though he is pleasant, he is not very compelling nor engaging. He is steamrolled by the charisma and energy of Linda Lin Dai. Supporting the two as comic relief is a young King Hu, who later went on to become the renouned director of DRAGON INN and A TOUCH OF ZEN, among others. Here, he is the comedic sidekick, with a bit of a thing for Lin Dai himself.

Huangmei Opera is an acquired taste, which I have not acquired. The music is lilting and pleasant, at least the first couple times, but it gets repetitious pretty quick. The first part of KINGDOM AND THE BEAUTY is simple romance without much drama, the second part all drama without much romance. Neither part fully satisfies.

[The Celestial Pictures DVD features a beautifully restored print, a completely unrestored original trailer, and a commentary track, by Paul Fonoroff and Josie Ho, which reveals how much he knows and how little she knows. Josie Ho knows nothing about the film at all, and her appearance on the track is pretty much a travesty. She is an amazing actress. But judging from this commentary track, she needs to lay off the hash before it fries what little remains of her mind. While she drowns in her own bong water, Paul Fonoroff provides lots of background detail about the actors and actresses in the film and is worth a listen.]

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on December 19, 2005.

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