Though solidly mounted, Xi’an Studio’s “Peach Blossom” is likely to make even moderately Sino-attuned viewers feel that they’ve seen it all before, and probably more than once. Period meller has elements in common with Zhang Yimou’s “Red Sorghum,” “Ju Dou” and “To Live.” Debuting helmer Wang Xinsheng previously worked as a cinematographer for directors including Huang Jianxin, whose “Wooden Man’s Bride” is also recalled. Given its generic feel, pic probably will find its offshore career confined to Asia-friendly fests.
The big difference between this effort and the more celebrated films it recalls is the lack of psychological bite or political suggestiveness. It’s as if filmmakers coming in the wake of Zhang’s success learned to copy only his pics’ most obvious elements. Set in 1910, “Peach Blossom” is another tale of young lovers separated by a powerful, malevolent authority figure. He is Lord Yao (Gu Lan), a provincial baron who is married to the beautiful, much younger Taohua (Li Lin).
Protagonist Man Tianhong (Chen Daoming), the lead singer of Wangsheng Shadow Theater, has a penchant for gambling that results in his company’s most valuable puppets ending up in Yao’s covetous hands. Man thinks that seducing Taohau, whose name means “Peach Blossom,” which is also the title of one of Wangsheng’s most popular numbers, might be the way to recover the props. Instead, he discovers Taohua’s loneliness after years of marriage to a former imperial eunuch, and the two fall in love.
Yao is not about to let his wife go, naturally. The lord’s henchmen pursue the fleeing couple and the Wangsheng troupe, and once the capture is made, they subject the unapologetic Man to prolonged torture that gives the drama its wrenching, memorable climax.
Helmer Wang stages all this with little in the way of originality but plenty of brisk, craftsmanlike competence. He gets a range of able performances from his cast, with Chen providing a muscular and convincing hero and Gu avoiding all hints of caricature in his sharp, restrained depiction of Yao. Tech credits are respectable across the board.