Review: ‘The Red Lotus Society’

Drama, fantasy, martial arts and romance are the ingredients of the not quite filling Taiwanese pic "The Red Lotus Society." Lacking the zip of recent Hong Kong genre pix, the gentle, cerebral nature of this outing will limit commercial acceptance outside ethnic situations. Nonetheless, it demonstrates real talent on the cusp of commercial and critical acceptance.

Drama, fantasy, martial arts and romance are the ingredients of the not quite filling Taiwanese pic “The Red Lotus Society.” Lacking the zip of recent Hong Kong genre pix, the gentle, cerebral nature of this outing will limit commercial acceptance outside ethnic situations. Nonetheless, it demonstrates real talent on the cusp of commercial and critical acceptance.

At the core of the drama is the Asian martial art of “vaulting”– the ability to leap, glide and seemingly defy gravity. Ahda (Ying Zhaode) has spent years training with bags of iron powder to transcend mortal bounds and find the spiritual enlightenment to lift into the heavens.

Though tales of the mythical group who practiced the art fill his head, there are more practical problems at hand. His father, a healer, is in trouble with racketeers involved in the jade trade. His boss, the Taipei wheeler-dealer Miss Sung (Lo Manfei), may also be the mortal link to the secret of the Red Lotus.

Throw in some colorful mentors and psychics and a problematic romance with a woman named Dan (Chen Wenming) andresult is a film too heavily weighted with plot. Focus, so important to vaulting, strays constantly, and ultimately all the loose ends do not tie into a pretty knot.

Still, writer/director Stan Lai keeps things interesting with visual dash and colorful characters. Mainly a rumination, “The Red Lotus Society” feels constrained when it really desires to fly. When spurts of action do occur, they feel anti-climatic.

Zhaode lends a charismatic presence to the proceedings, and the lensing is slick, if too obviously somber. This intriguing follow-up to helmer’s 1992 “The Peach Blossom Land” is ideal fest fodder but hardly vanguard material.

The Red Lotus Society

(TAIWANSES)

Production

A Performance Workshop/Long Shong Films production. Produced by Wang Ying-hsiang, Nai-chu Ding. Executive producers, Xie Mingchang, Chen Qiyuan. Directed, written by Stan Lai.

Crew

Camera (color), Christopher Doyle; editor, Chen Bowen; music, Fumio Itabashi; art direction, Samuel Wang; costume design, Li Weihui; sound (Dolby), Annette Danto; assistant director, Zhou Xinming. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 14, 1994. Running time: 120 MIN.

With

Ahda ... Ying Zhaode Dan ... Chen Wenming Kuei ... Na Weixun Mr. Mao ... Li Tongcun Ahda's Father ... Lee Lichun Blind Man Lu ... Lu Lu Yuzhou Miss Sung ... Lo Manfei
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