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My Kingdom
My Kingdom

Barbie Hsu and Han Geng in My Kingdom.
Chinese: 大武生  
Year: 2011  
Director: Gao Xiaosong
Producer: Zhao Haicheng, Du Yang, Dong Haihong, Andre Morgan, Zoė Chen
Writer: Zou Jingzhi, Gao Xiaosong
Action: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Chin Kar-Lok
Cast: Wu Chun, Han Geng, Barbie Hsu, Louis Liu, Yu Rong-Guang, Yuen Biao, Annie Yi, Tao Yang, Xie Shangchen
The Skinny: Much worse than it should have been. Hot stars Wu Chun and Han Geng fare poorly, but not as poorly as director Gao Xiaosong, who's way out of his depth. A competently developed 1920s Shanghai-set action-drama that falls off a cliff midway through and keeps on falling. It ain't My Kingdom - you can keep it.
by Kozo:

Oh My Kingdom, how you disappoint and also baffle. This ballyhooed east-west co-production received early trade press in part due to producer Andre Morgan, who’s fatuously credited as one of the minds behind The Warlords. However, he had some guy named Peter Chan working with him, and Chan is nowhere to be found on My Kingdom. That’s too bad because the film could have used someone with Chan’s keen commercial sense and knack for fixing troubled productions (see: Bodyguards and Assassins). As is, The Kingdom is poorly directed, badly acted and a waste of potential. At least the film has Sammo Hung (with an assist by Chin Kar-Lok) on action; the venerable master provides solid choreography that helps divert from the film’s flaws. However, Hung has his work cut out for him, because My Kingdom’s flaws are legion.

Set in early-1900s China, My Kingdom is the could-be epic tale of Erkui (Han Geng) and Yilong (Wu Chun), two Peking Opera students with anger in their hearts and mush for their brains. As children, both trained under Master Yu (Yuen Biao), whose skill with Peking Opera earned him the title of “Mightiest of the Opera Warriors,” bestowed upon him along with a Golden Plaque from the Prince Regent. But Master Yu suffers defeat at the hands of ambitious rival Yue Jiangtian (Yu Rong-Guang), who takes the Golden Plaque and goes on to become the toast of Shanghai’s Peking Opera scene. Fifteen years later, Erkui and Yilong journey to Shanghai and receive a chance at vengeance, as well as an opportunity to become Peking Opera stars in their own right. However, Erkui has another goal: years ago his clan was wiped out by the Prince Regent, and Erkui wants to use his Opera Warrior training to exact revenge.

My Kingdom is essentially the story of how good kids go bad because of anger, lust and some tricky plot maneuvering that may pit them against one another. Both are given rope to hang themselves; Master Yu tells them not to break certain important rules of Opera Warriors, so of course they both do so right away. One rule is to not sleep with an actress, which Erkui threatens to do because of his growing affection for Xi Mulan (Barbie Hsu), Yue Jiangtian’s former protégé and lover who becomes the lead actress in Erkui and Yilong's opera troupe. Another rule is not to duel other Opera Warriors, but that has to happen if the two want revenge on Yue Jiangtian. There’s solid dramatic territory here, and the period setting and Peking Opera trappings are also plusses. The action? Icing. If there’s so much potential here, then what went wrong? How about nearly everything?

During the first half, things are solid if sometimes shoddily handled. Neither Han Geng or Wu Chun impress as actors, but both convince as fresh-faced young men who might let larger circumstances get the better of them. The duel between Yuen Biao and Yu Rong-Guang is sharply choreographed and entertaining, and the showdown where Yu faces off against Han Geng and Wu Chun is also well done. Told on the opera stage, the scene has easy-to-follow, intricate choreography that only disappoints if one demands work from real martial artists. Neither Wu Chun or Han Geng qualify, but they fake it well enough, and those with knowledge of Chinese opera may enjoy the nods to the actual operas themselves. By midway, the film has set up its storyline well, if not with polished grace: these boys have reached the top and now it's time for their fall.

Then...IT ALL GOES TO HELL. Not just for the boys but for the audience, who up until then might have been engaged despite the overbearing, on-the-nose music and unimaginative direction. The film’s tension is undercut by poor story development and jarring editing, and the characters lose the ability to convince. Both Erkui and Yilong are sketched competently - one is the hot-headed frontman, while the other is more honorable and humble – but at a certain point, they kind of switch places, and the change lacks credibility. Also, the acting is disastrously unchecked. Both Han Geng and Wu Chun look good, but they overdo the manly tears and smoldering gazes – and usually while they’re gazing at each other. For fans of slash fiction, My Kingdom is a goldmine, as it contains many scenes where Han Geng and Wu Chun look like they’re about to start making out. Honestly, everyone knows this segment of fandom exists, so I’ll say this to them right now: buy My Kingdom. It’ll make you squeal.

But that’s different strokes for different folks, and if you’re in My Kingdom for the story or drama, you’re out of luck. The world of Peking Opera is only glossed over and never becomes engaging or fascinating. Nearly every key moment in the film is dispensed with boring exposition, the characters offering up information while meeting in rooms or casually walking down the street. The exposition itself is all about revenge, revenge, revenge, but without suspense or emotional weight, the constant karmic payback just feels routine. Barbie Hsu, who was so effective in a femme fatale role in Reign of Assassins, is much less convincing here, and the film’s unofficial fourth lead, Taiwan magician Louis Liu, is laughably miscast. Director Gao Xiaosong once made an experimental film (Where Have All the Flowers Gone) with three actors and a cast of mannequins. My Kingdom could be his unofficial remake, with the three actors being Yuen Biao, Yu Rong-Guang and that guy who served the tea in that one scene. Again, at least there’s some action. But the rest of the film is forgettable when it shouldn’t be, and therein lies the rub. Sorry, but this Kingdom is lost. (Kozo, 2011)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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