Emperor Vists The Hell

Emperor Vists The Hell


Reviewed by: Robert Munro

An austere and rather odd film, Emperor Visits The Hell is an attempt to translate a sacred Chinese literary classic in to a contemporary setting with, it must be said, little success.

Everyday people are re-imagined as mythological beings, undertaking the will of Heaven and the Gods on Earth. When the Dragon King - seemingly a local gangster - refuses the wish of Heaven to make it rain, in order to prove a rather obscure point to a local fortune teller, events spiral out of control. An executioner is sent to behead the Dragon King who in turn he pleads his case with the Emperor, a local calligraphy artist.

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The Emperor tries to forestall his death by tricking the executioner into falling asleep and thus missing his beheading appointment with the Dragon King. However, the executioner is so preoccupied with his execution that despite falling asleep he beheads the Dragon King in a dream. The Dragon King blames the Emperor for his death and has him summoned to face the King of Hell in order to explain himself. Thus the titular journey.

Confused? Yeah, me too. The confusion isn’t helped by the seemingly random (and interminable) succession of long shots which are inserted into the narrative. The long shot is an art and those who use it well understand that for it to be successful the audience has to be engaged with the characters. There needs to be an element of tension between what we’re seeing on screen and what we imagine to be happening off it. None of that is present here.

Instead, it feels like an attempt to stretch out what should really exist as a short film into a Kafka-esque feature length project which doesn't have the legs to justify it. While the scenario is confusing at first, it quickly becomes patently obvious that the film is intended as a satire of contemporary Chinese corruption and bureaucracy. In order to get out of Hell, the Emperor must bribe those he has killed and kowtow before them.

This is all fine and well, but a truly bizarre scene toward the end of the film which looks like it was shot during the wrap party (perhaps that is the intent, who knows?) has the actor playing the Emperor rather explicitly - and apparently drunkenly - explain to camera the stifling nature of life in contemporary China, thus undoing any interest or mystery that the film might have created. A rather unsatisfying and bewildering conclusion.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2013
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A powerful man who offends a divine messenger is condemned to an early death but told he can win a second chance if he can placate the ghosts of his enemies.

Director: Li Lou

Starring: Li Wen, Wu Wei, Li Juchuan, Yang Xiao, Li Hao

Year: 2012

Runtime: 71 minutes

Country: China, Canada


EIFF 2013
NDNF 2013

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