LEGEND OF THE BLACK SCORPION (Alliance, 2006) D: Feng Xiao-Gang, w/ Zhang Ziyi, Daniel Wu. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
Don’t be fooled by the label. This isn’t the King Boxer kind of kung fu classic Dragon Dynasty is famous for. It isn’t even a Crouching Tiger-style wire-work fantasy. This is a tragedy. Specifically, it’s Hamlet, transposed to the Tang Dynasty, 900 AD.
Prince Wu Luan’s uncle has murdered his father and married his step-mother, Empress Wan, who was the Prince’s beloved until his father married her.
The Prince returns to the castle, contemplating revenge. From there, the story shifts to Wan, who wants power, and Emperor Li, who wants Wan.
Zhang Ziyi does a rich, multi-layered Wan, bitter and cold one moment, young girl in love the next. She’s well matched by American-raised Daniel Wu, who takes a more interior approach to Wu Luan than we usually see in Chinese actors. Much of their acting is physical. This is more a movie of glances than of dialogue.
The tragedy plays out on some of the most sumptuous sets ever created. Huge, richly detailed and thoroughly explored by the camera, the palace reeks of oppression and corruption.
Commentator Bey Logan assures us almost everything we see is real. He leaves the production history to lengthy making-of docs and actor interviews and concentrates on comparing Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Feng’s version.
Fans of action choreographer Yuen Woo Ping (The Matrix) will be disappointed. Fight scenes are few, brief and not wildly thrilling.
EXTRAS Disc one: Logan commentary. Widescreen. Mandarin, English audio. English, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: Feng Xiao-Gang interview, star Daniel Wu interview, two making-of docs. Widescreen. Mandarin audio. English subtitles.