Ancient China is the setting for White Vengeance‘s tale of treachery, subterfuge and intrigue. Director Daniel Lee (14 Blades) gives the audience grand battles and epic vistas but ends up distracting and detracting from the personal battle of wits and passion that takes place.
Set during the fall of the Qin dynasty, White Vengeance tells the story of two brothers in arms who find themselves competing for power in an ever more dangerous time. Xiang Yu (Shaofeng Feng) is the natural leader, more impulsive and power-hungry. Liu Bang (Leon Lai) is more considerate; wiser and ultimately seeking peace for the war-torn region. Embroiled in a bitter war in which brute force is not enough, both men utilise their most brilliant mind, their strategist, in attempts to outmaneuver one another.
As simple as the basic premise of the story actually is, the first twenty or so minutes of this movie was like trying to put trousers on a dog: ill-fitting and making no sense at all. Once the script settles and moves away from unnecessary jumping timelines, the plot becomes more apparent and slowly begins to draw you in.
The real battle is fought between the two strategists: Fan Zeng (Anthony Wong) the old and experienced mastermind behind Xiang Zu’s campaign and Zhang Liang (Hanyu Zhang) the new adviser to Liu Bang. The result is a fast paced drama interrupted by battle scenes that don’t seem to have any real connection with the rest of the film. The battles are all placed in historical context and appear at appropriate times in the plot but thematically it all feels wrong.
The meatiest part of the script is the mental battle between two great adversaries but instead a lot of the major consequences occur at the result of a lost battle.The battles look gorgeous; huge swathes of horsemen gallop across dusty plains, it is all captured well but the emphasis seems to be in the wrong place. The removal of the majority of the battle scenes would also have kept the running time much tighter; the film feels slightly too long and only the battles appear superfluous. That said, it is testament to the rest of the script that pristinely shot scenes of war feel intrusive.
The atmosphere of increasing tension as the stakes are raised is fantastic and is thanks to some great performances from the cast, most notably from Shaofeng Feng. As Xiang Yu he conveys a vast range of emotions. He begins as the cocksure general, ready to take on the world but as the drama unfolds he brilliantly plays the descent in to desperation all the while maintaining tenderness for his love interest Yu Ji (Yifei Liu).
My only other slight concern is one borne completely of my own ignorance. I don’t know anything at all about ancient Chinese history. This leaves the events of the film feeling less impactful for me. I know that White Vengeance is based on true events but at the conclusion despite feeling satisfied on a personal and emotional level in the wider scheme of things I was none the wiser.
A small issue, however, in an otherwise entertaining film.Despite battle scenes that feel shoehorned in for more mainstream appeal and an opening section that scrambles the mind, White Vengeance stylishly tells a tale of personal betrayal and revenge.
Director: Daniel Lee
Run Time: 134 minutes
Special Features: Trailer