You are currently displaying English
火燒圓明園 (1983)
Burning of Imperial Palace

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 10/16/2012

Tells the story of the political movements in the mid-late 19th Century, when Chinese borders were under threat from opium-wielding gwei lo's. The ambitious court concubine Cixi is again shown to wield more influence than the decadent boy emperor. Despite her ruthlessness she comes across better than the evil, cultureless barbians in the film... aka the British... though :-)

The first half of BURNING OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE feels like a nature documentary, with beautiful mainland locations filmed most lusciously. It's all quite idyllic. Then Cixi steps in, the British get mad, and all hell breaks loose - it becomes a war movie. Armys of literally dozens of extras charge across the rag-strewn fields! There are some cool boat battles though.

The film tries to take a more historic approach than some, following the facts with relative integrity. It's almost more documentary than drama, though it is documenting some fairly dramatic moments in history :-)

The battle scenes suffer from their scarcity and the hamminess of the extras, but are quite fun to watch. It occasionally achieves epicness. It is an interesting subject, and well presented.

This was the debut film of Tony Leung Ka-Fai, and despite winning awards it nearly proved disastrous for his career, as he was blacklisted by Taiwanese companies for quite some time for his participation in this mainland production whose political views were not appreciated there. Luckily they seem to have got over it eventually :-)

Reviewed by: Cissi
Date: 05/21/2001
Summary: Rating-7/10

The first thing that struck me about this film (the first in a series) is how lavish it is. Parts of the film were actually filmed in the palace itself, which made some great eye-candy. Another thing that struck me was the large amount of people involved-the film seemed to be swarming with people everywhere!

To the film itself. Generally it was a good recreation of how things ran in the palace, with officials running everywhere and the emperor having a choice of a sleeping partner from a mind-boggling selection. It also painted China of the 19th century as a fractious country being over-run by Europeans, and the excellent battle scenes were harrowing and visually powerful in their portrayals. In one massive battle the entire Chinese army is wiped out by Europeans and their superior technology (cannons vs horsemen on arrows?). Another amazing scene was of the Europeans taking over the palace, slaughtering and plundering before finally burning the entire place down.

Visuals aside, I thought the film could have explored the relationship between Dowager and the Emperor, and what the film's original focus was-how the Dowager worked her influence on the Emperor and shaped China's strategies in dealing with the Europeans. Instead we get a stylised version (well it seemed like that to me) of how the Dowager seduced the Emperor (by singing a song then making him chase her around), and about a sentence from the narrator about how the Emperor taught the Dowager how to read and write documents.

But overall, the makers certainly had an eye for detail. A good film for anyone interested in knowing more about China in the twilight years of the monarchy. (7/10)

PS-The summary got a few things wrong-firstly the Dowager, in this film anyways, did not have a child (I think that's the next film). Also the Emperor was quite active in trying to deal with the Europeans. The problem laid with incompetent officials rather than him having a laissez faire attitude.