The Great Conqueror's Concubine

Reviewed by YTSL

From what I had read about it, this 1994 Hong Kong-Mainland Chinese collaborative effort possessed similar ambitions and faults as the Chen Kaige directed "The Emperor and the Assassin" which I had viewed - and was disappointed by - a few months ago.  Although the idea of a(nother) three hour long early imperial historic epic did not immediately majorly appeal, I eventually couldn't resist checking out the "cast of thousands" - at least in terms of number of undoubtedly cheap extras -- Zhang Yimou executive produced work which stars two Hong Kongers who I feel don't get as many plum roles as they deserve (Rosamund Kwan and Ray Liu) alongside Mainland Chinese megastars, Zhang Fengyi and Gong Li.

Ray Liu, Rosamund Kwan, Zhang Fengyi, Gong Li
In THE GREAT CONQUEROR'S CONCUBINE, Ray Liu portrays a general named Xiang Yu whose military exploits and successes earned him the sobriquet of "The Western Conqueror" while Rosamund Kwan is his beloved Lady Yu Gei.  Though she spends the bulk - if not all -- of the film as Zhang Fengyi's rival general Liu Bang's not particularly liked - by him and many others -- wife, it becomes clear some time before this turbulent drama's end that the movie's title character is that played by Gong Li.  Even while the production contains numerous differently but always grandly staged battles between often intimidatingly large rival armies of men (including that of the then ruling - from 221 to 206 B.C. -- Qin dynasty) as well as martial displays by scary weaponed individuals, the most bone chilling and cunning maneuvers are those enacted by Gong Li's conniving Lady Liu Jeung (who makes Gong Li's "The Emperor and the Assassin" character look like a naïve idiot and Rosamund Kwan's Lady Yu Gei an impossibly sweet saint).
THE GREAT CONQUEROR'S CONCUBINE is one of those films that I can well imagine bringing about a sense of sensory overload in its viewers.  This is due to its being so that apart from its being a rather lengthy work, those behind its making have elected to cover -- fairly briefly yet in quite a bit of detail -- a lot of episodes in the political as well as military campaigns of two ambitious men (and one ambitious women) to bring down their land's rulers and jockey for power plus territorial, material and other possessions of their own.  As such, it is my suggestion that this four -- rather than the usual two -- VCD occupying saga be watched in installments rather than in one go; since upon doing so, certain sections can be better distinguished from others and appreciated more (Personal favorites include those that took place in the surroundings of the sumptious imperial residence which a captured Lady Yu Gei was taken to be yet another of the Qin emperor's playthings and into whose dungeons she was thrown into after biting his ear...).  Alternatively, I think it safe to state that the two scenes in which Rosamund Kwan and Gong Li share a bath are ones which will stand out for most people however they choose to view this generally serious yet never pretentious offering (which does contain some "only in Hong Kong movies" moments as well as certain "only in Mainland China" vistas!).
As the work winds down to its inevitable - this is a pictorial retelling of amply recorded historic events, after all - conclusion, its story and events get more infused (than previously) with emotion.  In particular, the sections filled with song are the most alternately heart-warming and -rending.  The final confrontation is also something that moved this (re)viewer (almost to tears).  Interestingly, it additionally emphatically reconfirmed that the moviemakers' sympathies are not with the man who ended up founding the Han dynasty and the woman who, after his death, became China's first empress in her own right (a profile of whom can be found on a "100 Celebrated Chinese Women" web site). For at least comparative purposes,  I'd like to point out that the feelings I had for their - and others' -- victims is something which the more well known - at least in the West - 1999 Chen Kaige vanity project (the director cast himself as the father of the first emperor of China) never managed to evoke.

My rating for this film:  7.