Legend of the Black Scorpion is another great movie with the beautiful Zhang Ziyi. It is 10th century China during the Five Dynasties Period. When the Emperor is murdered, his brother Li usurps the thrown and takes his wife Empress Wan as his own. Prince Wu, fearing for his life, and knowing that he will never have the heart of Wan, flees the palace and politics in favor of a life of theatre and song. Li fears that Wu will someday return and try to take the throne for himself, so he dispatches his loyal guards to assassinate him.
If you’re a fan of the recent influx of technically proficient Asian action films, you’ll be bedazzled by the crazy sword fighting and super-human combat in Legend of the Black Scorpion. Throw in a story wrapped around the layers of Hamlet and a multitude of slo-mo action sequences choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping (Kill Bill) and you have one hell of a good time. The wirework here is on the fantasy level, which sometimes gives the film a fairytale element that is at odds with the otherwise realistic tone but also contributes to the visual poetry that suffuses just about every shot.
William Shakespeare has a collection of plays that have been adapted to film so many times it is a wonder that there are still more being made. The action is sparse for most of the film, in order to stay relatively true to the source material, but this only guarantees that whenever fighting does happen, it is remarkably impressive. I’m sure many will, and no doubt already have, criticise Legend of the Black Scorpion as a case of style-over-substance. It’s a hard charge to deny, but I think any film as gorgeous as Legend would be subject to the same criticism.
For those of you that can hang in for a complex story interspersed with a variety of awesome battle scenes and sleek visuals, Black Scorpion will be right up your alley. When the action takes a backseat to the unfolding drama, Feng continues to use cinematographer Li’s long fluid sweeps to bring the characters’ inner and external struggles to the forefront. As with any period piece, Feng lets each scene slowly unfold so that the sets and costumes can become supporting characters capable of enunciating what is happening. This is one beautiful movie. The huge palace sets are astounding feats of production design matched by the ornate costumes and gorgeous cinematography. Legend of the Black Scorpion is one of the most sumptuous and visually opulent historical epics I’ve seen in years.