The King with My Face (1967)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-11-04
“The King with my Face” is an adventure story full of heroism and loyalty on one side, venality and villainy on the other and plenty of intrigue for everyone. No swash goes unbuckled, no beard unstroked, no evil deed undone. It pits an evil, pleasure-loving king and his corrupt court against a noble peasant leader and his upstanding family. Shing An has a decent life, shooting ducks two at a time with bow and arrow and happy in the bosom of the family that has adopted him. When he rescues some damsels in distress from marauding soldiers the officer in charge of the soldiers thinks he is the king himself. Things are even more strange, though, since Shing An is the unacknowledged twin brother of the king.

The king is a pleasure loving dilettante who acts impulsively and is controlled by his favorite concubine to the extent he kills a retainer who wants to discuss his impending dynastic marriage in her presence. She is vengeful, unstable and stupid and he carries out her request no matter how outlandish. He pledges to build a plush palace for her in six months, an undertaking that will cause great hardship for his subjects with many forced into slave labor type conditions and others taxed until they are bankrupt. Starvation is threatening the countryside since the king’s soldiers draft men from the farms to work on the palace and a poorly organized and badly armed rebellion is brewing among the peasantry.

Two officials control the flow of information to the king. Lord Wan is a careerist whose real interest is in keeping his position in the court. He lives luxuriously and has created a sinecure for his stupid and cowardly son in the army. Lord Yuen thinks of the people first and does what he can to ameliorate their suffering. No one is loyal to the king himself but everyone respects the royal institution. There is much discussion of the rebellion in the countryside among court officials and the only way they can think of dealing with it is to execute anyone who sympathizes with the insurgents. The king is particularly eager for blood to flow, sending someone to the executioner’s axe as often as does the Queen of Hearts in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.

Shing An’s arrival at the palace causes amazement and consternation at first, then fear and hatred when it is discovered that he is the rightful heir to the throne even though he has made no claims on it. His royal blood is confirmed when a piece of jade he wears on a lanyard around his neck fits exactly into a larger piece which Lord Yuen has kept for a few decades. The other arrival that disrupts the extravagant licentiousness of the king and his hangers-on happens when Princess Kue Qi and her father show up inquiring about an auspicious day for a wedding. This is potentially as unsettling as the king’s twin, since a new wife will change the power combinations of the kingdom and a new queen can’t be thrown in a dungeon or judicially murdered as easily as a claimant to the throne. This proves to be the case when the King gets a good look at the princess, several days after he has sent Shing An to greet her at the border. The concubine is dumped and the king’s never flagging concupiscent interest is aroused by his newly met betrothed.

The combination of a weak king ruled by his groin, an evil advisor interested only in his own advancement and a retinue with no personal loyalty creates an unstable situation. When the discarded concubine decides not to go without a fight and Shing An’s family finds out he is locked in the deepest dungeon, head encased in an iron mask, the stage is set for the final conflict.

Shing An is a bit too good to be true. Given a chance to kill the unconscious king he gallantly but stupidly refuses. His foster brothers are made of much sterner stuff, infiltrating the very center of the palace in order to kill the vengeful concubine and rescue the princess from her clutches. The king, of course, is too bad to be true, and San Wing-Gwan is credible as both of them. Unfortunately he looks more like a reprobate than a revolutionary. He has a fleshy, almost jowly face and does not cut a particularly dashing figure. He inhabits the role of king—you really hate him—more than Shing An, who you wouldn’t mind as a neighbor but don’t feel strongly about.

Shum Lo as Lord Yuen was the moral center of the movie. He tried to counter the worst advice given by his rival Lord Wan and while loyal to the throne was disgusted with the person occupying it. More than anyone Lord Yuen was responsible for the plan to free Shing An and to put him on the throne which he wanted to do both because it followed the letter of the law and also because it would end the suffering of the people. Fan Mei-Sheng was terrific in a small but important role as the sniveling and craven Wan Chao, Lord Wan’s son. Wan Chao showed that the next generation of rulers would be a base and moronic lot, giving even more urgency to deposing the king.

The very attractive and quite young--nineteen and already a seasoned Shaw Brothers star—Li Ching was every inch the princess. Reticent but ready to fall in love, fearful but prepared to risk everything to help Shing An, regal but completely in sympathy with the suffering peasantry—although when she and Sin Er, her lady in waiting, decided to put on their common clothes and mingle with the population they stood out like a pair of swans among a flock of sparrows.

There isn’t much action in “The King with my Face” and even that isn’t very compelling—this is closer to “Henry V” than Captain Blood” and succeeds mainly a morality tale with no ambiguity and a sharp line between good and evil.
Reviewer Score: 6