FULL RIVER RED (满江红) (2023)

Genre: Drama/Mystery
Director: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Shen Teng, Jackson Yee, Zhang Yi, Lei Jiayin, Yue Yunpeng, Wang Jiayi, Pan Binlong, Yu Ailei
Runtime: 2 hrs 39 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 23 April 2023

Synopsis:  12th century China, during the Song Dynasty, set against a brewing rebellion by the Jin people against the Imperial Court. Two hours before a crucial diplomatic meeting between the Song Prime Minister Qin Hui and a high level Jin delegation, the Jin Ambassador is murdered. An important letter destined for the Emperor is stolen from him. As the search for the letter unfolds, alliances are formed, secrets are revealed, and no one can stop the truth that is destined to leave its mark in history.

Movie Review:

It is no wonder why acclaimed director Zhang Yimou’s latest film delivered excellent box office results in China during the Lunar New Year holidays. As of March, the movie has earned a healthy amount of more than 4.5 billion yuan since its release on 22 January.

The title “Full River Red” is an acclaimed poem in Chinese history, believed to be written by Yue Fei. Probably the most famous patriot known to the Chinese, Yue Fei’s poem is a courageous call to unite against a common enemy of the country. This is the perfect source material to speak to Chinese audiences. Before you disregard this film as another propaganda piece produced by China, we urge you to step into the cinema to experience this work of art helmed by the auteur, who is also part of the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers.

The film opens with a title card telling viewers that the story takes place four years after Yue’s death. Those familiar with Chinese history will know that the folk hero was framed and wrongly executed. A Jin delegation is set to meet Song Prime Minister Qin Hui (it is believed that he is responsible for Yue’s execution), and things go into chaos when a Jin official is found dead. A confidential letter is thrown into the mix, which makes Qin worry about the consequences. The distrustful man locks down the premises and orders the letter to be found within two hours.

And people are sent into a frenzy following this. There is Zhang Da (who would have thought comedian Shen Teng would be in a Zhang Yimou movie?), a lowly army corporal who seems to hold crucial information to this whodunit mystery. He happens to be the nephew of Sun Jun (Jackson Yee shedding his idol looks), the no nonsense deputy commander who will not hesitate to wield his sword at anyone in his way. There is already a comedic setup here, with the older chatty man being the younger serious guy’s nephew.

Meanwhile, the physically weak Qin (the fabulous Lei Jiayin) is watching these two men closely. His counsels Lords He Li (Zhang Yi, who usually plays the good guy, is someone sneaky for a change) and Wu Yichun (crosstalk comedian Yue Yunpeng) look like they are up to no good as well.

The men scurry from one spot of the confined palace to another, accompanied by spirited electronica folk music. As the scenes transit from one location to another, the plot grows thicker and you wonder whether a conspiracy is hiding in plain sight. You’d also be impressed with the word play and the pacing of the 159 minute movie, because there isn’t a dull moment in this movie that has a runtime of over two and a half hours. The skills of a masterful storyteller are on full display.

Before you think this is a serious drama with grim twists and turns, you’d be pleasantly surprised by the amount of humour that went into the script. There are several chuckle worthy moments, largely thanks to the spot on delivery of Shen, who is known for his performances with Chinese comedy film and stage play production company Mahua FunAge. It is rare to see how humour, suspense and drama blend together so nicely in a film. And when the lyrics of the poem “Full River Red” are unveiled in the movie’s finale, you will be applauding this masterpiece.

Movie Rating:


(The Chinese blockbuster is a brilliant showcase of humour, drama and suspense, and it showcases Zhang Yimou's skills as a master storyteller)

Review by John Li

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