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White Vengeance tells the story of two brothers contending for supremacy during the fall of the Qin Dynasty, which ruled Imperial China from 221 to 206 BC. As rebels rose, the nation fell into chaos. Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, became leaders of the rebellious army, and also became sworn brothers in battle. Xiang Yu and Liu Bang are close friends who both serve King Huai of Chu. King Huai uses a plot, saying that whoever can subvert the Qin kingdom in Guanzhong would be the Lord Qin, in order to benefit from the competition between Xiang Yu and Liu Bang. Xiang Yu is over-confident. He fights against the main force of Qin army, and entrusts Liu Bang with Yu Ji, the woman he loves.
For more about White Vengeance and the White Vengeance Blu-ray release, see White Vengeance Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 23, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Shaofeng Feng, Leon Lai, Hanyu Zhang, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Yifei Liu
Director: Daniel Lee
» See full cast & crew
White Vengeance Blu-ray Review
Do not pass Go.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 23, 2012
Watching White Vengeance can be a little bit like attempting to play the mobile phone version of Go, the iconic ancient game which is also not so coincidentally part of the film's plot. Go is supposedly an extremely simple game to grasp, though it also has layer upon layer of strategy underlying this presumed simplicity. But for anyone who has attempted to ferret the rules of the game from any number of free mobile app versions, calling Go "simple" is a little like saying E=MC2 is equivalent to 2+2. White Vengeance is a highly stylized and at least partially (maybe even mostly) fictionalized retelling of an apparently famous story from China's long ago past, but it is a story so convoluted and site specific that outsiders—including probably most if not all Western viewers—are going to be playing "Stop", rather than Go, including repeatedly hitting their "Pause" button on their remotes to catch subtitles that flit along with an almost Einsteinian speed of light due to the rapid fire dialogue. Writer-director Daniel Lee has had an impressive, if somewhat spotty, career helming such epics as Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon and 14 Blades, and while his visual sweep is undeniable (if hampered by the always trendy use of "shaky cam"), his ability to tell a complex story in a meaningful and, most importantly, comprehensible way is still evidently a challenge. White Vengeance is a film that probably demands repeated viewings if for no other reason than to sort out the labyrinthine internecine warfare that is at the core of the story. The film is opulent but often a jumble and that combination means that while the eye and ear are almost always engaged, the mind may be wondering, to use a Go analogy, what exactly the pattern of white and black playing pieces actually means.
We Americans are often surprised (when we really shouldn't be) when people from other countries don't know the ins and outs of our nation's history. Imagine, for example, if you asked someone from, say, China to describe the events surrounding Valley Forge. You'd more than likely get a blank stare. That same situation in reverse is part of the problem with White Vengeance. How many Westerners have ever heard of the so-called Banquet of Hong Men Yan (which is alternately called The Feast at Hong Gate)? In fact, as is discussed in some of the supplements included on this Blu- ray, there are many Chinese who aren't exactly up to speed on this long ago event, an event which White Vengeance plays with, building a film around while at the same time (rather ironically) never exactly showing the actual event itself in any great detail.
While the basic set up of White Vengeance geance—namely, two warriors who band together but who are then pitted against each other through the machinations of a King intent on keeping his own grasp on power—isn't that hard to grasp, the film is really weirdly structured, with flashback within flashback unfolding, and a mystical element overlaying the enterprise that may keep some viewers slightly on edge wondering if what is going on is really happening or is simply some kind of supernatural allegory. The main thrust of White Vengeance deals with two soldiers, Liu Bang (Leon Lai) and Xiang Yu (Feng Shaofeng), who have banded together to capture a Chinese city, with the agreement that whoever enters the city first will become the new Emperor. It's negotiated that Xiang will do the honors, and Xiang sends Liu off with Xiang's erstwhile girlfriend, Yuji (Yifei Liu), though of course things don't exactly work out that way. Liu ends up taking the city, though his intentions seem to be honorable. Both of the warriors are surrounded by scheming acolytes, and much of White Vengeance deals with these underlings' plots to retain power.
Director Daniel Lee mounts a sumptuously beautiful film, one that wants to deliver both blistering action sequences as well as a certain amount of philosophical musing and some star-crossed romance thrown in just for good measure. The film plays like a Chinese version of a David Lean epic at times, though to be fair it never achieves the simple narrative flow that most of Lean's films do. Part of this may well be due to the fact that we Westerners are simply not overly familiar with this time period generally, nor with this particular corner of Chinese history, but even taking away any unfamiliarity, this film is awfully complex at times, with little other than some judicious color coding (pay attention to things like who's wearing blue headdresses and sashes, for example) to clue the audience in as to who is aligned with whom.
White Vengeance also falters a bit in its closing moments, with one too many codas tacked on to what is otherwise an affecting, if tragic, conclusion for some of the characters. It's as if Lee wanted to tie up each and every plot strand, rather than simply letting the viewers fill in a few blanks themselves. The film does make some cogent observations about the corrupting influence of power, and White Vengeance is probably at its best depicting the rapidly changing alliances which shift throughout the film like desert sands in a windstorm.
White Vengeance Blu-ray, Video Quality
White Vengeance is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.38:1. This digitally shot film looks gorgeous almost all of the time, and the best news here is that the digital intermediate has not been through the usual blender of color timing, filtering and contrast pushing or pulling. Generally speaking, this is an extremely sharp and clear looking high definition presentation. Things are slightly hobbled by Lee's use of the trendy "shaky cam" technique in several battle sequences, which may have been done to cover up some less than fulsome looking CGI elements that attempt to make a cast of hundreds look like a cast of tens of thousands. In fact the worst part of this presentation are wide shots, which often are more than a tad on the soft side. When the film concentrates on midrange and close-ups, things pop really well, with some exceptional fine object detail, especially with regard to the gorgeous costumes and sets. Colors are nicely saturated, contrast is strong and black levels are also solid throughout this presentation.
White Vengeance Blu-ray, Audio Quality
White Vengeance features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in Mandarin. As is usual with these Chinese productions, it's more than obvious that many of the actors are not in fact speaking Mandarin, and there are some significant synch issues in terms of lip movements and the sounds supposedly emanating from them. Putting aside this very typical problem, the rest of the mix is often stupendously effective, with some thundering LFE and very nicely placed directional sound effects. The mix here is also unusually varied, in that the film segues from gigantic battle scenes to very quiet romantic or political scheming segments that are considerably more mellow, if no less nuanced. The foley effects in this film are frequently very engaging, including everything from hordes of horse hooves pounding across a barren plain to a large banquet hall door creaking expressively as it opens. Fidelity is very strong and dynamic range is also very wide.
White Vengeance Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
White Vengeance Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I've made it through White Vengeance twice now, and I'm still not sure I understand everything that goes on in this film, so my advice is don't expect this movie to be an easy thing to digest in one sitting. The good news is White Vengeance is huge and intimate at the same time, offering gigantic epic set pieces with an affecting, if perhaps too melodramatic, tragic love story at its core. Lee obviously has the visual sweep side of things down pat, and White Vengeance offers a glut of gorgeous costumes and sets. But the storytelling on a very basic level is often muddled. There's simply so much material here, often told in a nonlinear way, that it can just become awfully confusing at times. Still, for those willing to spend a little time (or, frankly, a lot of time) ferreting out the nooks and crannies of this story, White Vengeance is an intelligent and captivating historical epic. Recommended.
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White Vengeance Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: White Vengeance - August 24, 2012
Blu-ray.com and Well Go USA are offering three members a chance to win a copy of White Vengeance. This epic Chinese film recounts a little known story from China's ancient past and is directed by the acclaimed Daniel Lee. White Vengeance streets on September ...
• White Vengeance Blu-ray - July 3, 2012
In September, Well Go USA will bring White Vengeance to Blu-ray. Directed by Daniel Lee (Black Mask), this war epic focuses on the fierce conflict sparked between two ambitious brothers during the Qin Dynasty. White Vengeance streets on September 4th.
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