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ӻPThQ (1980)
Emperor Chien Lung and the Beauty

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 10/18/2007

“Emperor Chien Lung and the Beauty” is one of a series of at least four movies that follow the fictionalized exploits of Qianlong, emperor of the Qing Dynasty whose reign was the longest and according to some commentators, the most glorious in Chinese history. The historical Qianlong ruled from 1736 to 1795, a period of internal peace in which China’s boundaries were pushed farther than ever before, her population reached a new high point, scholarship expanded and artists flourished. In “Emperor Chien Lung and the Beauty” he had a lot of time on his hands and was able to tour the countryside in the company of his slightly madcap sidekicks, Judge Ngo Rong An and Royal Scholar Liu Yung enjoying the favors of a famous courtesan, surveying the wreckage of a very disaster prone city whose only thriving industry is gambling and hitting the gaming tables himself. He encounters a number of locals, none of whom realize he is the emperor and finds that many of his subjects think he is incompetent, immoral or corrupt. This provides the structure for some otherwise not well connected scenes as Chien Lung goes from autocratic, threatening to have his entire kitchen staff beheaded, to kind hearted, saving a despairing old man from committing suicide and giving him money, to militant, beating up scores of bad guys who try to arrest him.

The film isn’t very interesting or even, for long stretches, coherent. It doesn’t tell the audience anything about eighteenth century China—given the apparent age and virility of Lau Wing’s portrayal it would have taken place around 1760 or so—and is set in that all purpose Shaw Brothers historical drama year of “back then”.

The emperor is able to travel incognito since his subjects are loath to look at him. This allows him to, as emperor, survey the damage done to a town and then as a citizen win enough money at the casino to fund its rehabilitation. That there is anyone left living in this area is amazing in itself. During the royal progression one of the imperial underlings reads a list of the natural disasters that have occurred and quite a list it is. The town has been hit with an earthquake or flood every few years for as long as anyone can remember—there shouldn’t be anything left standing. Despite this there is enough money in the town to support at least one crooked casino where the emperor as not so humble citizen takes his place at the high stakes table and places the same bet about twenty times in a row winning every time. No explanation is given as to how he accomplishes this or if there was I missed it but after the first few minutes it was boring.

Kara Hui would liven up almost any proceeding and she does so here, completely competent in all things, indomitably sexy and always ready for a fight. She gets one quickly. Kara is betting along with the emperor—actually the entire casino seems to be but they are the only ones wagering bars of gold—and is attacked by a fat thug in order to disrupt the game. She and the undercover emperor kick and punch their way through literally scores of opponents in a much too protracted and not very well choreographed set of fights.

Other than Kara there isn’t anyone for the audience to root for. The emperor is more than a bit of a jerk, an obsessive autocrat can recite exactly how many third class cooks and second class messengers work in the royal kitchen but who didn’t know that a major part of his realm has been rocked by natural disaster and oppressed by dissolute officials who were appointed from his court. The Wans, the couple who runs the casino and profits from the misery of the citizenry (they include a table where it is possible to wager oneself—win and you get a bag of money, lose and your are sold into slavery) aren’t very effective as villains although Chan Shen looks the part. The bureaucrats and common citizens that the emperor encounters simply come and go with no one making much of an impression.

There is very little to recommend “Emperor Chien Lung and the Beauty” other than Kara Hui looking delectable and devastating.

Reviewer Score: 3