In Mandarin with English Subtitles
Cast: Joseph Chang, Chiao Chiao, Fan Wing, Jack Kao, Terri Kwan, Lin Yo Wei, Li Po Hsuan, Kenneth Tsang
RunTime: 2 hrs 2 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: NC-16 (Some Mature Content)
Official Website: http://www.princeoftears.com/
Opening Day: 15 April 2010
It happened in 1950s Taiwan, during the period known as White Terror, when an anti-Communist campaign swept the island and in a hysteria reigned. On one autumn afternoon, two young sisters return from school to find their once-happy home ransacked by military police and their parents arrested and accused of being Communist spies. The film follows a quartet of characters-the dashing air force officer father, his beautiful devoted wife, a mysterious scar-faced bureaucrat and a general's glamorous wife. Their lives and loves intertwine until everything erupts in a rhapsody. Amid life in that turbulent era, friendship, passion, high-minded ideals and dignity are all put on trial in the courtroom of human desire.
Stories based on actual events during political unrest make the best backdrops for epic scale films. Imagine – couples madly in love during these chaotic times, couples torn apart by betrayal amidst widespread turbulences, countless unfeeling troops marching across lush landscapes. How can anyone’s emotions not be stirred by such rousing visual images? And it definitely helps if the protagonists are eye candy. So, this film genre is a perfect match for director Yonfan, whose eye for visual aesthetics has often gotten more praise than his flair for storytelling.
The historical drama tells the story of a Taiwanese family entangled in the web of political confusion during the 1950s. It was known as the period of “White Terror”, after the nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek relocated to Taiwan from China. Martial law and strict one-party dictatorship was imposed, and political opponents were imprisoned, tortured and killed. This backdrop becomes a stage for human drama played out between a handsome air force officer father (Joseph Chang), his gorgeous and dutiful wife (Zhu Xuan), a quietly mysterious scar faced official (Wing Fan) and a high ranking general’s alluring wife (Terri Kwan).
While the plot does not break any new ground in terms of storytelling (how convenient is it for this tragic love story to be seen from a child’s point of view?), the film still manages to tug at your heartstrings whenever a heartbreaking misfortune happens. Whether it’s the capturing of a suspected military traitor, the execution of a framed soldier or the separation of a happy family, these distressing sentiments will make you ponder about the pain politics can bring onto common folks. Furthermore, these agonizing moments are complemented by the film’s exquisite cinematography. And this is where the expensive production scores.
The entire film is a fine display of elegance and refined visual aesthetics – it is almost like appreciating canvas after canvas of tastefully classy paintings. As the screenplay is penned by Yonfan himself based on his childhood memories, it is naturally apt that he takes on the role of the art director to ensure the authenticity of the set pieces during that era. Also, thanks to cinematographer Chin Ting-chang (Cape No. 7, The Shoe Fairy), audiences can expect a visual treat that is pleasing from beginning to end throughout its 122 minute runtime.
Yonfan has also gathered a nice mix of stars for his latest work. Chang, who first wowed audiences for his role in the gay movie Eternal Summer (2006), is the perfect choice to play the dashing air force officer. The image of him in his nicely ironed uniform, playing the accordion suavely will go down well with female fans. Fan (The Best of Times, Sound of Colours) puts his broodiness to good use as the family friend who is not who he seems to be. Kwan’s (My DNA Says I Love You, Shamo) sophisticated beauty is embodied in the general’s trophy wife who may not be as happy as she seems. Newcomer Zhu’s acting may not be as assured as her co stars, but she has her own appeal as the devoted wife who wants nothing more than happiness for her family. These young stars are complemented by fine supporting performances from a veteran cast which includes Kenneth Tsang (blood Ties), Jack Kao (Shinjuku Incident) and Chiao Chiao (Bishonen).
As Hong Kong singer George Lam sings the end credits song over a lovely accordion melody, you’d be in awe how film can tell a heartbreaking story set in such ugly times to such beautiful effect. By then, you’d have learnt a little more about Taiwan history, a little more about human nature and also a little more about how cinema is a powerful medium for storytelling.
(A sweepingly gorgeous film to watch and indulge your senses in)
Review by John Li