Review: ‘Accidental Legend’

A whimsical comedy set in China's barren northwest, "Accidental Legend" reps a classic case of a director who needed reining in by her producers. This long-in-the-works, undisciplined feature bow by Taiwanese director Wang Shau-di would benefit from losing a good half-hour, though offshore chances beyond festivals would still be extremely limited.

A whimsical comedy set in China’s barren northwest, “Accidental Legend” reps a classic case of a director who needed reining in by her producers. This long-in-the-works, undisciplined feature bow by Taiwanese director Wang Shau-di would benefit from losing a good half-hour, though offshore chances beyond festivals would still be extremely limited.

Set in the late Ching dynasty at the turn of the century, pic centers on a dust-bowl “thief village” where the authorities, afraid of uprisings, have resettled poor and criminal elements. In return for various favors, the local

governor also exploits the rabble for his own designs.

Sent to steal some exam papers from a nearby town, two tykes from the village also pocket a couple of gold nuggets, once owned by a legendary bandit, Miao San-shun. To cover up the theft, the governor sends in a ruthless constable to recover the gold and uncover the whereabouts of Miao, who’s still a hero to the

superstitious villagers.

The film’s first half is chaotically structured and (despite opening captions setting the scene) often incomprehensible. A theme of sorts – the need for people to have something to believe in beyond the drabness of their lives – emerges toward the end, as the “legend” of Miao (similar to Lee Marvin’s gunfighter in “Cat Ballou”) is shown to be partly fraudulent. Final reel lets loose a barrage of iffy f/x as the authorities are defeated by the forces of magic.

Most of the film’s good points get lost in yards of eccentric comedy concerning the villagers and in the general lack of rhythm. Wang, 43, from TV and legit, previously helmed the first episode in the omnibus “The Game They Call Sex” (1988), as well as scripting Wang Tung’s rural Taiwanese comedy “The Straw Man.” There’s much of the latter’s humor on display here, but without its

ironic edge and directing technique. Thesps, including the talented Rene Liu, are wasted, and lensing and music are variable. Pic was shot in China, near Xi’an.

Accidental Legend

Taiwanese

Production

A Central Motion Picture Corp./Rice Film Intl. production. International sales: CMPC, Taipei.) Produced by Hsu Li-kong, Huang Li-ming. Executive producer, Chung Hu-ping. Co-producer, Huang Jianxin. Directed, written by Wang Shau-di.

Crew

Camera (color), Mark Lee Ping-bin; editors, Chen Hsiao-tong, Huo Pong-lin; music, Yu Kuang-yen; production design, Huang Chih-ming; sound (Dolby), Hu Ding-yee. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 6, 1996. (Also in Vancouver Film Festival.) Running time: 129 MIN.

With

Niu Cheng-tse, Chang Shih, Rene Liu, Lin Tze, Chen Xing.
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