You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Last Supper’

Lu Chuan's epic demands rigorous attention from anyone unfamiliar with Chinese history, making expansion beyond fest and arthouse venues unlikely.

Liu Ye, Daniel Wu, Chang Chen, Qin Lan, Sha Yu, Nie Yuan, Huo Sian, Li Qi, Cuckoo He, Yu Yulai. (Mandarin dialogue)

Theatrical in the Shakespearean sense, freely channeling “King Lear” and “Macbeth” with stunning visuals in lieu of poetry, “The Last Supper,” Lu Chuan’s epic account of the founding of the Han dynasty compensates with spectacular style for what it lacks in emotional immediacy. The story has been often told (see Daniel Lee’s 2011 “White Vengeance”), but Lu opts to filter the material through the fevered memories of the dying emperor, leapfrogging timeframes. Compelling in its detailed intrigues and magnificent frescoes, Lu’s follow-up to his acclaimed “City of Life and Death” demands rigorous attention from anyone unfamiliar with Chinese history, making expansion beyond fest and arthouse venues unlikely.   

The aged emperor (Liu Ye) lies on his sickbed, haunted by mist-shrouded nightmares of his two greatest enemies, Lord Yu (Daniel Wu) and Gen. Xin (Chang Chen).  Yet these men once stood as his greatest friends and allies.  In flashback we see him, as simple peasant Liu Bang, approaching the great Lord Yu for help in freeing his hometown and rescuing his wife (Qin Lan). To his astonished gratitude, he is given 5,000 men and invited to join the powerful nobleman in his struggle to overthrow the tyrannical Qin Empire.

Liu rises in the ranks, he and Lord Yu together defeating the Qin.  But Liu secretly enters the forbidden Qin palace and becomes forever changed by its austere splendor:  The formerly easygoing, laughing soldier swells with restless ambition, which soon engenders fear and paranoia. His newborn thirst for power cannot be assuaged by Lord Yu’s idealistic postwar plan to raze the palace and divide the country (which the Qin unified under single-tongue/single-thought rule) into numerous kingdoms with separate languages and diverse customs.

Helmer Lu and lensers Zhang Li and Ma Cheng, together with production designer Chen Haozhong and art director Lu Tianhang, have outdone themselves with their depiction of the majestic palace; its flowing water and symmetrical blocks of sculpted stone are further enhanced by CGI, visually conveying Liu’s transformation via menacingly lit seas and massive, morphing clouds. The palace’s vast archives figure prominently in ensuing power plays as the truth gets repeated rewrites, this ancient revisionism staged dramatically in the film’s treacherous denouement.

Lu’s direction of the action scenes runs strategically hot and cold. Tensions between commoner Liu and nobleman Yu climax in a startling setpiece, the famous Hong Gate banquet, where Yu’s advisers, fearing Liu’s intent, orchestrate a murderous ceremonial sword dance, each ritualized gesture a provocation and a threat. Later retaliation by Liu, joined by Yu’s ex-bodyguard, the now-Gen. Xin, receives chillier treatment in remarkably bloodless, abstractly choreographed battle scenes.

The film’s final third, firmly anchored in the present, sweeps forward with awful inevitability as the empress, with Lady Macbeth-like singleness of purpose, consolidates power and annihilates all obstacles to her imminent reign. Surrounding her, servants, scribes and ministers subserviently prostrate themselves or scuttle across the floor on all fours, living embodiments of dictatorial rule. Flashbacks function to emphasize the enormous tragic disconnect between what Liu and his wife once represented and what they have become.

Film Review: 'The Last Supper'

Reviewed at New York Asian Film Festival, July 7, 2013. (Also in 2012 Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 110 MIN. Original title: "Wang de cheng yan"

Production: (China) A Wild Bunch release of a Stellar Mega Films, Emperor Motion Picture, Polyface Film, Tang Dynasty Media Group, Huaxia Film Distribution presentation of a Beijing Chuanfilm production. Produced by Qin Hong, Lu Chuan, Albert Yeung, Teng-Kuei Yang, Zhao Xiaowen, Gu Guoqing. Executive producers, Yuan Xin, Albert Lee, Catherine Hun, Leo Shen.

Crew: Directed, written by Lu Chuan. Camera (color, widescreen), Zhang Li, Ma Cheng; editors, Liu Yijia, Cui Liang; music, Liu Tong; production designer, Chen Haozhong; art director, Lu Tianhang; sound designer (Dolby Ditital),Wang Gang; supervising sound editor, Wen Bo.

With: Liu Ye, Daniel Wu, Chang Chen, Qin Lan, Sha Yu, Nie Yuan, Huo Sian, Li Qi, Cuckoo He, Yu Yulai. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Photograph by Svetlana Cvetko

    Blitz Films' Eryl Cochran Talks About Indie Film in Challenging Market

    Eryl Cochran heads production & development at production and financing shingle Blitz Films, where she works alongside company founders, filmmakers Nikolay and Sergey Sarkisov. Blitz, launched in 2018, is carving out a niche in the indie world with an eye for emerging talent. Blitz’s slate includes “Show Me What You Got,” directed by cinematographer Svetlana [...]

  • Echo in the Canyon review

    Film Review: ‘Echo in the Canyon’

    Arguably the most sturdily crafted and entertainingly anecdotal documentary of its kind since Denny Tedesco’s “The Wrecking Crew,” a similarly nostalgic celebration of artists who generously contributed to the soundtrack of the baby boomer generation, Andrew Slater’s “Echo in the Canyon” offers a richly evocative and star-studded overview of the 1960s Laurel Canyon music scene. [...]

  • Alain Berliner To Direct Cannes-Set ‘Second

    ‘Ma Vie en Rose’s’ Alain Berliner Directs Star Cast in ‘Second to Nun’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Page Three Media and Artemis Productions, which backed “The Danish Girl,” announced in Cannes “Second to Nun,” a new feature from Golden Globe winning director Alain Berliner. Berliner’s decades-ahead-of-its-time “Ma Vie en Rose,” the tale of a young transgender girl with dreams of growing into a mature woman and marrying the boy next door, was [...]

  • Artist Andrew Levitas Tackles Corporate Greed

    Artist Andrew Levitas Tackles Corporate Greed in Johnny Depp Starring 'Minamata'

    Andrew Levitas has carved out a unique place in the art world, having used his considerable skills across multiple creative platforms. A filmmaker, painter, sculptor, producer, writer, actor and photographer, Levitas is also the founder of Metalwork Pictures, a media production company that develops and produces original content, including his 2014 directorial debut, “Lullaby,” as [...]

  • Oliver Laxe

    Cannes: ‘Fire Will Come’s’ Oliver Laxe on Classicism, Avant-Guard, Egos

    CANNES  —    Spain’s Oliver Laxe returns to Cannes for the third time with“Fire Will Come” (O Que Arde), competing in Un Certain Regard— the first time a Galician-language film is selected for Cannes. He has pedigree. His first time round, in 2010, Laxe snagged a Fipresci nod for his Directors’ Fortnight title “You All [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content