Emperor Visits the Hell Screen 4 articles

Emperor Visits the Hell

2012

Emperor Visits the Hell Poster
  • The shakier Li's aesthetic gets, the more the film shakes in total, its plotline peeling off of its actual form to reveal—and eventually, announce—itself as a low-budget independent film, shot guerilla-style on location. It's hard to avoid glomming onto the idea of this as a "statement," but Li's point is more existential than pedantic.

  • It’s a timeless myth provocatively retold as a modern-day political satire, with Wuhan skyscrapers standing in for the inferno.

  • A quietly astonishing tour de force... Shooting in elegant, black-and-white long takes with a surgically precise attention to settings, props, and atmosphere, Li once again moves between several levels and types of narrative material: the historical record of the Taizong Emperor’s reign, the original descent-into-Hell myth, its transcription in Journey to the West, and a movie picture-book of the very film we are watching, the captions from which punctuate the film.

  • Luo’s approach is to defamiliarize the material by radically banalizing it, the stuff of myth made to reflect a contemporary culture of cronyism, currying favor, covering up mismanagement, passing-the-buck, and greasing palms. In Luo’s hands the Dragon King (Mai Dian) becomes a petty gangster and Emperor Li Shimin (Li Wen) a stout bureaucrat who, at the film’s close, is seen breaking his character over a bibulous dinner, mouthing off about China as a peasant society that needs enlightenment.

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