White Vengeance (2011)
Director: Daniel Lee
Writers: Daniel Lee
Starring: Leon Lai, Feng Shaofeng, Anthony Wong, and Andy On

The Plot: White Vengeance is a historical epic that centers around a real incident that was known as “The Banquet of Hongmen.” This story centered around two opposing generals, Xiang Yu (played here by Feng Shaofeng) and Liu Bang (played by Leon Lai), who came together under the illusion that the two would be making amends, but in reality the entire event was made in the hopes of assassinating Liu Bang. These two were originally brothers as they attempted to put an end to the Qin Dynasty, but when it came time to choose a new direction for the country – these two were unable to come to terms. In the film, these two forces are on the verge of war, and although they politically maneuver around the issue, everyone knows that it is only a matter of time before these two must battle.

The Review
The litany of martial arts epics that have been released within China/Hong Kong in recent years is enough to keep the average viewer’s head spinning. In a way, this seems as if it is a return to form for a genre that was, at least in my head, once-pronounced dead. The wuxia genre has certainly made a very strong return, and the budgets/levels-of-polish are higher than ever before. Although I have rarely been a fan of these movies in the past, I have never shied away from giving such films an opportunity to impress me. Unfortunately, few ever get the job done. For me, there is usually a noticeable lack of bite in these historical epics. They deal with very specific times, places, and legends from China’s past, but they can tend to feel a bit cluttered with information. Without a background in much of the content, it becomes easy to lose track of the plot within these movies. However, this is where the spectacle of the budgets and choreography comes into play. Even if the main plot becomes a monotonous mess, as long the action and visuals are impressive then such things can often be forgiven. White Vengeance is another title within the recent wave of military epics that have been making the rounds, and indeed, it is certainly guilty of these issues that I have mentioned. However, does it manage to overcome the meticulous plotting and find something real or unique within the script? That is the ultimate question, and to find out the answer, you’ll have to keep reading.

Indeed, White Vengeance is a film that works best when you’re aware of the history surrounding these incidents. Knowing that there is a legitimate history behind this story helps tremendously, and reading a quick overview of the story helps keep the characters straight within the mind of the viewer. Essentially, this is a story that develops during the Chu-Han Contention, which was yet another time of complete strife within the history of China. At the time, the Qin dynasty had recently come to pass and there were two factions fighting for power, the Han and the Chu. Liu Bang was the warrior who led the Han, and the Western Chu were led by a man named Xiang Yu. Essentially, this film details their rivalry over ultimate control over China and the rise of a new emperor. Knowing these things certainly helps any viewing of the film, and walking into the movie unprepared can be quite difficult. There are numerous characters within the movie and keeping your mind wrapped around all of these men/women who dress in a very similar fashion can be quite difficult. Many of the viewers at home will, without a doubt in my mind, find themselves patiently waiting for the next big action sequence to take place instead of keeping track of the various back-and-forth changes in loyalty. Even having the true story firmly engrained in the mind of a viewer is not enough to continuously keep track of everything that happens throughout the course of the movie. Unfortunately, there’s just so much going on in the film that unprepared viewers are likely to find some elements of confusion within the script. However, despite the monotony of the plot, there remains a few key elements that all viewers can take from the movie. At its heart, White Vengeance is a story dealing with loyalty and honor. Good men who serve bad lords, and the fallacy of believing in black and white morality in the midst of warfare are also issues that are touched upon. Yet, the key ingredient to this whole project is its vast and epic feel that is inspired by the movie. Whether or not it is a great narrative is almost secondary to the vast visual poetry that the movie inspires.

The action within the film is spectacular, there’s no getting around it. Huge and vastly dramatic, one look at these action set-pieces is enough to blow minds. Although the movie does take advantage of heavy digital effects, the film never becomes bogged down by them to such a degree that it becomes distracting. Such distractions have become a common occurrence in the new wave of wuxia epics. Although the CGI is certainly noticeable here, sometimes worse than others, the majority of the effects are used in an attempt to make the battle scenes seem bigger than they are. The aerial views in particular are fluffed out with duplicate warriors on horses, and although this all seems obvious, there are good intentions behind these scenes. Quite frankly, the CG isn’t that bad, but such shots are indeed noticeable. However, when the battles are shown in their up-close form, only the choreography and the action seems to stand out. As someone who is not a massive fan of wire work in his choreography (though I can tolerate it), I was also surprised and happy to find that many of the fight scenes take place in much more realistic surroundings. The swords are heavy in White Vengeance, and when they are swung they are done so with mean intentions. Along with these realistic swords, the acrobatics of the fighters are kept to a minimum. While the film does feature single men taking on entire armies, while also slinging their sword and knocking back ten other warriors, the fight sequences are so fierce that the exaggerations do not stand out or seem hokey. In fact, the brutality of the choreography sells the exaggerations in a very believable way.

The performances are about what one would expect from a massive epic such as this one. There are few standout performances due to the stoicism on display. Few characters are given much of an arch within the story, and instead of expression or depth, all characters are represented as either villainous bad guys, badasses in general, or prideful heroes. There is very little in between, but would you expect it or want it to be any other way? Anthony Wong probably stands out as the most interesting character within the film. An old blind prophet, his character is a bit cliche, but he stands out because of his peculiarity. In a movie that, for the most part, tries to stand out as being fairly historical, this character is more than a bit strange. Also popping up in the midst of the reality-meets-mytho laundry list of characters, there are also three maidens who are introduced during an early segment of the film that are known as “The goddesses of war.” They serve no purpose other than providing advice during one key scene, but it is such a divergent scene that it manages to stay fresh in my mind after watching. The rest of the characters throughout the movie are unfortunately quite vanilla. Xiang Yu and Liu Bang, who are rightfully the focus of our movie, are only interesting if you are really absorbed by pure stoicism. I give it to the movie that these characters are at all-times believable in their heroic behavior, but does it mean that these characters jump off the screen? In my estimation, no, but it is only because of the lack of sincere or tender moments with these characters. The moments that are off the battlefield generally revolve around politicking, and while these sequences can be cool in their own way, they do not establish a great deal of emotional resonance with the audience. Still, for what its worth, it seems that the filmmakers accomplished their goals.

The Conclusion
Indeed, it helps a great deal to recognize the history behind this film, because otherwise it is very easy to become lost. The majority of the film revolves two factions who are waging war against one another, and without any background information the audience becomes lost in the endless sea of battles. Even after reading a bit about the era in which this film is supposed to take place, I too still had trouble navigating a great deal of the plot. However, the vastness of this historical epic can not be denied. The story, although seeming overly meticulous from an outside perspective, seems to be relatively balanced. The performances are suitable for this sort of project, and the action is brilliant in all regards. It is worth checking out, but it may leave audience members slightly befuddled at times. I give it a three out of five.

Screen captures gathered from blu-ray.com