Sluggish soap won't wash

EMPIRE OF SILVER (M) Ratings: 1.5/5 Cinema Nova (113 minutes)


Ratings: 1.5/5

Cinema Nova (113 minutes)

THERE'S scope for an intriguing film about China at the end of the 19th century from the perspective of one of the nation's leading banks.

But in the hands of first-time Taiwanese-American director Christina Yao, this sluggish, uninvolving soap opera hardly resonates with the present as it ought to.

With the Chinese economy in tumult, the pragmatic banker Master Kang (Zhang Tielin) is bent on preserving his family's financial empire.

There is no love lost between him and his heir apparent, Third Master (Aaron Kwok), given Third Master's passion for the woman (Hao Lei) who becomes Kang's second wife.

There's a great deal more to the story: the fate of Third Master's three brothers, the change to "paper money" in place of silver, and a random attack by digitally generated wolves.

Other subplots are introduced, then dropped: it's hard to account for the fleeting presence of Jennifer Tilly as a missionary, unless this is supposed to make the film more marketable in the US. Ultimately, the clash between father and son is resolved in an unsatisfying, evasive manner that virtually erases much of what has gone before.

The film depends heavily throughout on voiceover narration by a later member of the dynasty, who seems mysteriously well-informed about events that occurred before he was born.

As a result, there is rarely much suspense or narrative momentum. Nor does Yao overcome a blandly decorative style, in which the camera rises and falls with stately regularity and most interiors are bathed in golden light.

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