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Prince of Tears
Prince of Tears     Prince of Tears

(left) Joseph Chang, and (right) Fan Chih-Wei and Zhu Xuan in Prince of Tears.


Year: 2009
Director: Yon Fan
Producer: Fruit Chan Gor
Cast: Joseph Chang, Fan Chih-Wei, Terri Kwan Wing, Oceane Zhu Xuan, Kenneth Tsang Kong, Jack Kao, Lin Yo-Wei, Li Lieh
The Skinny:

Predictably indulgent, undeniably pretty and surprisingly immersive, Prince of Tears proves to be a good match for director Yon Fan's filmmaking style. There are some frustrations with unexplained details, but the story and themes justify many of the flaws. Much better than Colour Blossoms, and an understandable if routine choice for Hong Kong's yearly Academy Awards entry.

by Kozo:

Hong Kong's entry into this year's Academy Awards is The Prince of Tears, a lush melodrama about, uh, Taiwan. Director Yon Fan a.k.a. Yeung Fan directed this drama set during the early days of Taiwan's White Terror era, the period from the late forties to late eighties when tens of thousands of Taiwanese were imprisoned or worse for suspected ties to Communism. True to Yon Fan form, Prince of Tears is absolutely gorgeous to behold, with beautiful, tormented people emoting through contemplative gazes directed at nothing in particular. Usually, there's not much movement, and when the people move, they move slowly, usually to take a drag of their cigarette. Also, someone plays an accordion. It's that type of movie.

Yon Fan's Colour Blossoms also featured many of the above traits - except the parts concerning Taiwan or accordions - and it did so indulgently, becoming so lost in its own artifice that its emotions remained cold. Prince of Tears also moves glacially, and its emotions are far from passionately portrayed. However, Yon Fan appears to have found a good match for his style. Prince of Tears's story is based on historical fact and possesses innately tense situations. This is a film where characters deliberately and understandably bury their true feelings, as revealing them could be irreparably damaging. Yon's particular aesthetic works well here, ably conveying tension through a slow, absorbing stillness. In Colour Blossoms, his style was empty, but in Prince of Tears, it's storytelling. There are two sides to everything.

Taiwan, 1954. Han-Sun (Joseph Chang) and Ping (newcomer Zhu Xuan) are a married couple with two daughters living in temporary military housing pending the Nationalist regime's supposed, but yet to happen, return to mainland China. Their lives are idyllic and picture-perfect; he's a decorated pilot who plays the accordion and dotes on their daughters, while she makes dumplings and sells them for a quick profit. Their lives are all smiles and happy times, but there's one dark cloud: family friend Ding (Fan Chih-Wei), whose scarred visage and noticeable limp are matched by a reserved, seemingly eternally sour mood. Ding works for the Nationalist Party, meaning he's clued in on suspected Communists being removed from their homes and lives. He has a soft side too, in that he's nice to the girls and also plays the violin.

At least, he did back when everything was just peachy. This anti-Communist climate of distrust and fear takes its toll on the family, with Han-Sun and Ping soon placed under arrest for suspected treason. The girls are separated, one living with family friends and the other with Ding, and gossip bubbles to the surface about Ding possibly playing a part in Han-Sun's arrest. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Xiao-Zhou befriends the daughter of Madame Liu (Terri Kwan), wife to KMT General Liu (Kenneth Tsang). Madame Liu is famously progressive, and previously knew both Han-Sun and Ping. However, her dazzling smiles and friendly demeanor may hide other, more damning secrets. As time passes, new questions are asked, some obliquely answered, and the White Terror quietly worms its way into the young girls' lives. Ultimately, all they can do is cope.

Despite possessing an intriguing story and very compelling situations, Prince of Tears is mostly about mood. Again, however, it's a mood well-suited to Yon Fan's style. The film moves with a dream-like quality, effectively rendering the tense, hazy lives of the young girls through gorgeous film language. There's much to like in Yon Fan's visuals, and his cast is impossibly beautiful. Madame Liu has numerous soldiers attending to her house and they're all blazingly handsome - that is, except one key soldier, played by super-ubiquitous Taiwanese actor Jack Kao, who does a fine job of performing a role way below his talents.

Meanwhile, new actress Zhu Xuan is a little out of her depth. She conveys her emotions well, but her physical acting in sometimes noticeably unsure. However, Terri Kwan is confident and commanding in the key role of Madame Liu, and Fan Chih-Wei is both sinister and sympathetic as the limping Ding. Anchoring the whole thing is Joseph Chang, adding to his apparently boundless range of gorgeous male types as a photo-perfect matinee idol complete with military uniform and righteous, romantic gazes. Technical credits - that is, art direction, cinematography, costuming - are tops, as one would expect from a Yon Fan film.

Prince of Tears does lose some footing due to its unfinished details and occasionally oblique storytelling. Much of the film is related in voiceover, but the narrator is not omniscient, and many key questions aren't answered satisfactorily. The final act is ultimately quite bewildering, wrapping up many questions while asking some baffling new ones. The film takes its time to reveal its intricate personal dynamics and quietly hinted truths, and it's done so obliquely that it's difficult to ascertain exactly what truly happened to this unfortunate family. Still, there's one message that's delivered in the third act that neatly excuses Yon Fan's lack of forthcoming, and it's earned, resonant and very appropriate. Anyway, it's all about the mood. Despite the film's flaws, Yon Fan makes his characters matter, and conveys their emotions successfully to the audience. Just by accomplishing that, Yon's occasional indulgences can be forgiven and perhaps even forgotten. (Kozo, 2009)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image credit: Far Sun Films Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen