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Lady of the Dynasty
Lady of the Dynasty

Fan Bingbing is the Lady of the Dynasty.
Chinese: 王朝的女人·楊貴妃  
Year: 2015  
Director: Shi Qing, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Zhang Yimou
Writer: Shi Qing, Wu Nan, Bian Zhihong  

Fan Bing-Bing, Leon Lai Ming, Wu Chun, Joan Chen, Wu Gang, Ning Jing, Wu Yue, Chen Baoguo, Jin Hao, Wen Zhang, Qin Yi, Tu Honggang, Stephen Boer

The Skinny: Pretty-looking but unimpressive costume drama with only superficial reasons to recommend it. Fan Bingbing looks great but her character isn’t compelling, and Leon Lai lacks charisma as the male lead. Surprisingly coherent, given how troubled the production was, but something with this size and subject matter should be a lot better than this.
by Kozo:

The long-troubled costume drama Lady of the Dynasty finally hits screens as a pretty-looking but woefully underdeveloped romantic tragedy. Shi Qing directs (with assists from Tian Zhuangzhuang and Zhang Yimou, or so the credits say) this fictionalized story of Yang Yuhuan (a.k.a. Yang Guifei), the Tang Dynasty-era princess considered one of China’s “Four Great Beauties” – and since the actress playing Yang is internationally-revered stunner Fan Bingbing, the filmmakers were apparently going for some sort of authenticity. Unfortunately, Lady of the Dynasty takes the promising character of Yang and turns her into a glorified trophy wife with only a nominal effect on history. She does look fabulous, though.

Yang Yuhuan is initially relatable and sympathetic. When we first meet Yuhuan, she’s an earnest young maiden performing in front of Emperor Li Longji (Leon Lai), and is soon selected for a royal marriage to Longji’s son Li Mao (Wu Chun) by Mao’s mother Consort Wu (Joan Chen). Yang is flattered to be anointed a princess, but like a Disney heroine she also desires love and passion in her life. She asks to meet Li Mao before their wedding – a luxury not afforded to most arranged brides – and also requests that Mao swear his loyalty to her before consummating their marriage. He does so – because she looks like Fan Bingbing, probably – and soon wedded bliss is upon them.

And then it isn’t. Intrigue simmers 24/7 in the Imperial Palace; the Emperor’s many sons vie for the throne, leading some to perform treacherous acts and others to perform acts that make other people look like they’re performing treacherous acts. It’s dangerous and backstabby, this Imperial life! Li Mao and Yuhuan are not party to these “Dallas in the Palace” shenanigans, but Consort Wu is a willing Machiavellian, and Li Longji gets in on the soap opera antics when he secretly develops the hots for his own daughter-in-law. When word eventually gets back to Li Mao that his dad has been seen fondly caressing one of Yuhuan’s hairpins, the royal excrement hits the fan.

Feeling betrayed and probably a little creeped out, Yuhuan exits her marriage and enters a Taoist monastery, but she is coaxed out after being moved by some passionate words from the Emperor. So begins the pair’s “love bet,” where Li Longji wagers that he can break past Yang Yuhuan’s inhibition to claim her heart. That is, after he marries her anyway and she becomes his latest wife. While the newly minted Consort Yang resists Longji’s advances by acting petulant, it’s still Dallas in the Palace except now people think that the Emperor is losing his mind because he so embarrassingly lusts after his former daughter-in-law. Also, Yang’s cousin instigates a coup against the Emperor. The Yang family has looked better. Obviously.

The liaison between Li Longji and Yang Yuhuan is meant to play as a grand and passionate romance, but the film doesn’t succeed at making it one. Both characters are sketched as decent but also ridiculously naïve people, such that they look like fools when everything comes crashing down. The plot twists never register beyond their story function, as the film spends too much time on romantic artifice and endless shots of people riding horses, and not enough setting up its many players or the background drama. There’s room here for more complex characters and emotions, but the whole thing comes off as a simple, overblown romance. Yang Yuhuan actually does so little that – beyond her obvious beauty – you wonder why everyone is so obsessed with her.

The story also lacks the inevitability necessary to create suspense. Better foreshadowing using theme or character would deepen the film and add anticipation, but as is this is a straightforward and clichéd yarn about kings, queens and lousy sons. The romance also fails at carrying the film. The chemistry between the leads really isn’t there, and the erotic teases belong more in a trashy bodice-ripper than an elegant, sumptuous tale of desire. Fan Bingbing is fine but the material is lacking, and Yuhuan never seems to matter beyond the fact that she’s played by a big star. Also, Leon Lai is not charismatic enough to make Li Longji compelling. An actor with regal presence or greater acting chops (think Chen Daoming or someone of similar stature) would have added the instant credibility that Lai lacks.

The cherry on top is the overblown narration from Sir Tacitus (Stephen Boer), a visitor from the Byzantine Empire who gravely gushes in English about the progressive perfection of the Tang Dynasty. Tacitus’s other role is to constantly mention how amazing and wonderful Yang Yuhuan is in a manner that can best be described as “throaty fangasming”. He also plays confidant to the doomed lovers, and at one point offers the astounding advice, “Love is not easy.” Neither is filmmaking but that shouldn’t excuse this silly and self-indulgent spectacle. At the very least we should note the film’s beautiful costuming and production design, and its competent green screen effects. The fact that Lady of the Dynasty is relatively coherent is pretty amazing considering the film’s tortured history. If you need more silver linings, there’s also cleavage. (Kozo, 9/2015)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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