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Diau Charn

Hong Kong 1958
produced by
Runde Shaw (executive) for Shaw Brothers
directed by Li Han Hsiang
starring Lin Dai, Zhao Lei, Lo Wei, Yang Chih-Ching, Chin Chun, Chi Pei, Ho Li Jen, Li Yun Wu, Li Yunzhong, Lo Hung
written by Kao Li, music by Wang Chun

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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China, circa 190 AD: Over the last few years, prime minister Dong Zhou (Lo Wei) has ammassed too much power, and now he has become a threat to the Han-dynasty itself.

Minister Wang (Yang Chih-Ching), technically his subordinate, is loyal to the Hans on the other hand and wants to overthrow Dong Zhou, but he lacks an army of his own to do so, or at least a hero, all he has is his adopted daughter Diau Charn (Dai Lin), who had to flee from Dong's soldiers not too long ago. So he makes up a scheme to make Diau Charn, who wants her revenge on Dong, into Dong's concubine. The trick about the whole plot is that before Diau Charn is handed over to Dong, Wang introduces her to hero Lu Bu (Zhao Lei), Dong's adopted son, a handsome man about Diau Charn's age - and just as Wang has expected, the two fall in love.

Later, when Diau Charn has been made Dong's concubine, Lu Bu always finds excuses to visit Dong's court and tries to spend as much time with Diau Charn as possible - much to the dismay of Dong, who soon forbids Lu Bu to enter certain parts of his palace. This drives a rift between Dong and Lu Bu, a rift that's only deepened by Diau Charn, torn between her true love for Lu Bu and her commitment to her master Wang, according to which she has to remain with Dong. Of course, this was exactly what Wang had in mind, because the situation eventually drives Lu Bu to a level of jealousy that he kills Dong - in other words, he did exactly what Wang wanted him to, if for all the wrong reasons.

The land is freed of Dong, the Han dynasty is saved, but to secure the freedom, Wang wants to kill Lu Bu in the course of a sword dance, and now she sees herself torn between love and sense of duty. During the dance, Diau Charn tries to stab Lu Bu quite a few times but every time pulls back the very last moment - until Wang makes her stop and blesses her relationship to him ...

 

An adaptation of a Chinese opera that has made movie history primarily because it has been the first colour film by legendary production house Shaw Brothers. Other than that though, Diau Charn is not bad but also not particularly great, it's a rather cheesy period drama that can't deny a certain staginess in direction, and if you're not into Chinese opera music at all, you probably won't want to watch the film.

However, being the first colour film of the studio, the film also set the style of Shaw Brothers period flicks for the next 25 or so years: Their over-reliance on primary colours, their studio-bound sets, their many indoor-for-outdoor scenes, lack of location shoots, detailed period sets and costumes, and so on and so forth.

In all, interesting rather than great, but well worth a look v- provided the music doesn't put you off.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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