Fri, Oct 30, 2009 - Page 17 News List

FILM REVIEW: History repeats itself as farce

Yonfan’s overly self-conscious ‘Prince of Tears’ treats the White Terror period with a glib sentimentality that can best be described as political terror as soap opera

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER


The White Terror is one of the most fraught and controversial episodes in Taiwanese history, and the fact that it has been picked as the setting for Hong Kong-based Taiwanese director Yonfan’s (楊凡) lushly romantic period drama Prince of Tears (淚王子) is arguably in rather dubious taste, an offense the director aggravates with a glib sentimentality that can best be described as political terror as soap opera.

Putting aside this fundamental issue, which may well be sufficient to put some people off the film, it is only fair to say that the visual aesthetic is not uninteresting (relying heavily on supersaturated colors and airbrush effects that Taiwan’s wedding photographers are likely to appreciate), though so self-consciously artistic that it often loses touch with any sense of reality and at times verges on self-parody.

The story centers on Sun (Joseph Chang, 張孝全), a handsome and loyal Air Force officer who lives with his second wife Ping (Zhu Xuan, 朱璇) in what must be one of the neatest little veterans’ villages, or juan cun (眷村), ever to have been built. They have two daughters, one by his previous wife. A close family friend Ding (Wing Fan, 范植偉) has a bit of a yen for Ping, but spends most of the movie with a sour look and a Phantom of the Opera facial disfigurement that is so profoundly fake that one expects him to take it off at any time.

The idyllic life of Sun and his wife begins to unwind when they fall under suspicion of being Communist sympathizers. Sun is taken off and shot, while Ping secures her safety by marrying Ding, who is implicated in her husband’s death. In this harsh world, compromises need to be made.

Sun’s youngest daughter is close friends with the daughter of Madame Ou-Yang Liu (Terri Kwan, 關穎), a former girlfriend of Sun’s, and possibly a former lover of Ping’s. She is now married to a general, but has dark secrets hidden in her past. And this is just the tip of a very large and murky iceberg. It is remarkable that although Prince of Tears is supposedly based on, or at least inspired, by a real story, every transition seems contrived, and the emotional responses of the characters are often rather bewildering.

A narrated voiceover by the director keeps the plot on track, and also relieves the cast from the painful necessity of acting out the story. Ou-Yang looks an absolute dish in her lavish period costumes, and Joseph Chang is also likely to find an appreciative audience, but this is all pop idol glam-infused camera work without even a hint of depth.

Yonfan tries for a mood of tragedy, but what he ends up with is a sort of high camp period drama that cares more about recreating a mythology and wallowing in nostalgia than it does about looking at the past. In an interview quoted in the publicity materials, Yonfan said that he did not re-create the period. “I create with my memories of the past and make something that you have never seen before,” he said.

If that was his goal, then Prince of Tears may be accounted a success of sorts, but for the most part it is turgid stuff made worse by its artistic and historical pretensions. Some of the most interesting footage is the documentary material — recordings, film and photos — that plays at the opening of the film and accompanies the credits at the end. This at least seems to be about something more than Yonfan’s own fevered imaginings.

This story has been viewed 4711 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top