Directed by Lu Chuan
Historical drama, 110′
After the critical praise received from many critics for his previous films ‘Mountain Patrol’ (2004) and ‘City of Life and Death’ (2009), Lu Chuan’s fourth feature ‘The Last Supper’ (2012) is more proof of the director’s unique perspective and approach to film. It is his distinctive viewpoint that defines Lu Chuan as one of the most talented directors currently working in Mainland China.
The long awaited epic drama ‘The Last Supper’ continues a thematic preoccupation of the director; the mediation on power and the thirst to possess it. Despite the film not being a huge success at the Chinese box office, its symbolism and the recurring representations of power, alongside the artistic approach to narrative will surely help the film achieve further international acclaim.
In comparison with another globally successful epic film set during the Han dynasty, ‘Red Cliff’ (2008), where John Woo created an aesthetic spectacle from the historical focused material, Lu Chuan places the attention onto the individual’s drive for power and control, focusing on the power relations between individuals. Those seeking thrilling action set pieces will be bitterly disappointed by the languid plotting and stylized cinematography.
With an emphasis on use of flashback to drive the narrative, the somewhat convoluted plot follows the story of the founder of the Han dynasty, Liu Bang (Liu Ye), and the path he had to take to become the first emperor to rule China. Reminiscing about the past, he recalls the only two people he was ever afraid of – Xiang Yu, a noble warrior and Han Xin (Chang Chin), who initially helped Liu to defeat Yu, but subsequently turns into an even greater threat.
The complexity plotting is actually an exploration of generic tropes, traditional Chinese values, concepts of bravery, courage, nobleness, respect and solidarity. Whilst the film is very detailed in its focus on historical accuracy, it could be understood as a reflection of contemporary social concerns as it deals with the theme of becoming victim to ambitions for power.
Lu Chuan‘s approach allows for an in-depth development of the characters which allows for a retelling of China’s history on a personal level. It is interesting to note that the film also takes the perspective of the woman, an unusual one for such make dominated genres.
‘The Last Supper’ does actively promote the generic masculine perspective, but to Lu Chuan‘s credit, it also juxtaposes this by highlighting the implications; it is interesting to read this film through a feminist standpoint and see the film as an exploration of the parallels which can be drawn between different gendered worlds and ideologies. Lu Chuan is an intelligent film-maker with a clear agenda.
The film’s focus does allow for universal values to be considered despite its focus on a specific era of Chinese History. Its success lies in the fact that it can be perceived and understood both in the East and in the West. A beautifully shot film with a somewhat complicated narrative, ‘The Last Supper’ should appeal to those seeking an education in Chinese History rather than a action packed escapism.
Review by Eva Spirova