Remember John Woo’s jaw-dropping historical epic Red Cliff – a film with many well-developed characters, a fascinating military strategy story, and original action scenes? White Vengeance is the same film only with all those appealing aspects completely removed. Director Daniel Lee must still be coasting off the success of his Black Mask released in 1996. Even as one of my least favorite Jet Li films, Black Mask is still somewhat entertaining. But after Black Mask, Lee’s other films such as Dragon Squad, 14 Blades, and Three Kingdoms have been pretty forgettable. White Vengeance does not change that pattern. White Vengeance is unfortunately a very boring, uninspiring historical epic film, especially disappointing since the Chinese film industry usually gets the historical epic genre done right.
White Vengeance is based on the famous Banquet of Hongmen (also known as Feast at Hong Gate) in 206 BC, a historical Chinese event that involved two generals Liu Bang and Xiang Yu who rebelled against the Qin Dynasty, competing to become the new emperor. Both leaders met up with each other at the Banquet of Hongmen to pretty much play mind games with each other, with eventual plans of killing each other. For viewers not that sharp with Chinese history (as myself), Liu Bang went on to become the new emperor of China, since Xiang Yu committed suicide after a final battle. As an acknowledgment of the founding of the Han Dynasty, The Banquet of Hongmen is commemorated often in Chinese pop culture.
Liu Bang (Leon Lai) and Xiang Yu (Feng Shaofeng) are both competing generals with armies behind each of them with plans to overthrow the Qin Dynasty to make the country wonderful again. Within the first 15 minutes of the film, they get involved in a failed assassination attempt, bringing the two generals together and supposedly becoming allies. For the next two hours, the movie quickly falls into a monotonous zone as we get to watch the generals, advisors, warriors, assassins and other sidekicks all scheme or strategically plan until the inevitable conclusion of one general gaining power by the end of the film. White Vengeance could certainly be a perfect double feature with this year’s Battleship. Only in White Vengeance, the game is Chess and Go. Watching a game of chess can be exciting, but this film is like watching a draw between two players as they move the same pieces back and forth during the whole chess match.
The dialogue revolving around this game of military chess was absolutely dull so I was hoping that the addition of the action scenes would balance out the script. I’m sorry to say it but the action scenes were worthless as well. How could the filmmakers mess that up too? I’m so used to watching Asian action movies with sloppy screenplays but with extraordinary action scenes. But to have both a poor story/screenplay and bland action choreography is really surprising coming from China. While many of the action scenes were set up to be exciting, Daniel Lee ruined the action scenes with shaky camerawork, quick cuts that made the action disconnected and lacking continuity, as well those slow-motion scenes that weren’t originally meant to be in slow-motion – the type that’s created in post-production to hide visual faults. While White Vengeance had plenty of action, the few cool-looking fight scenes amounted to maybe 20 seconds.
Release after release, Well Go USA releases such beautiful looking Blu-rays. White Vengeance continues the trend and the 1080p 2.38:1 video looks astounding! If the director didn’t use so many distracting CGI-infused action scenes, the video would get a perfect score. But the computer-animated soldiers and arrows did not blend that well into this crisp video presentation. Other than these distracting CGI battle scenes with hundreds of plastic toy soldiers, the video quality really stood out during the medium shots and close-up scenes with just a few actors in view. Realistic skintones and colors gave this presentation incredible depth and dimensionality, so often that I was caught up with staring at all the stylish goatees on each warrior’s face. With such a lacking story, I was more caught up in all the fine textures and details in the background – armors, costumes, rooms, etc. The art director and costume designer could certainly demonstrate their lavish work by showing this Blu-ray to people!
The Mandarin DTS-HD 5.1 is pretty sweet and does everything that you would expect. Its use of the surrounds are as good as any other historical battle film, with swords clinging, arrows and spears whizzing, and horses galloping all around your speakers. The subwoofer packs quite a punch with its impressive bass. Dialogue comes across perfectly clear as well. This mix is a powerful presentation of the soundtrack with a great balance between the quiet talky scenes and the loud battle scenes.
Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 and English subtitles are also included.
The extras aren’t anything outstanding, but 90 minutes of the film-making process and interviews are generous enough for this forgettable film.
– Behind the Scenes
– Interviews with Cast and Crew
– Film Trailers for White Vengeance and other Well Go USA releases
I really wanted to like White Vengeance since I’m a sucker for Asian historical films. I’ve enjoyed ones with little action and all drama, and ones with mainly action. This movie offered an equal amount of action and drama, but both elements were absolutely tedious. The acting wasn’t bad but the actors who usually entertain (such as Leon Lai and Anthony Wong) just seemed to sleep through their roles in this film.
White Vengeance is a pretty film to look at and does look like a quality film if you pressed the pause button during any scene, but once you see the whole film in motion with its lacking screenplay and action, you’ll just count the minutes until you reach the end. I don’t know how accurate director Daniel Lee follows history here, but maybe White Vengeance could be a film to play during a Chinese history class that covers the Banquet of Hongmen. Regarding entertainment value and rewatchability, I say skip it.