Lord of East Asia Sea II
Reviewed by YTSL
Although I did not find the 2½ hour
long “Lord of East China Sea I” to be a particularly great -- or even gripping
-- movie, the completist in me felt compelled to also check out the follow-up
Poon Man Kit directed effort that promised to complete its particular biographical
take on one of Shanghai’s richest and supposedly most influential men during
the first half of the 20th century. The first film’s having had one
of the more abrupt endings around contributed as well to my actually having
some curiosity re how and where the life story of Luk Yuet San would go
after the 1920s meeting that the former fruit seller turned opium trade
tycoon had with the Kuomintang’s notoriously militaristic -- but also corruptible
-- Chiang Kai Shek.
Imagine my disappointment then upon discovering
that: That whose 102 minute length final version is apparently half
an hour shorter than what was shown during its initial public screening
(See Paul Fonoroff’s “At the Movies”, 1998:302) doesn’t begin where Part
I of the saga had left off but, instead, only covers a time period that
has its start in 1936 (and end in 1952). Still, the history minded
will realize that the years that are spanned in LORD OF EAST CHINA SEA
II are among the more eventful ones in China’s past. More precisely,
they encompass those in which the country found itself at war with -- and
had significant parts of it occupied by -- its Japanese neighbor and traditional
enemy as well as undergoing the kind of political upheavals that eventually
led to the wrestling of power from the Chinese Nationalist Party by the
Communists (who continue to rule over Mainland China to this day).
The main protagonist of LORD OF EAST CHINA SEA
II (who is once more portrayed by Ray Lui) is shown as being very much
affected -- like most anyone would be -- by the winds of change and (inter)national
events that form more than the backdrop of this movie. To a larger
extent than one might expect though, Luk Yuet San gets cast in a more passive
and hapless than active and heroic light for much of this largely dramatic
-- but at times unintentionally laughable -- piece. Perhaps the film’s
makers opted to do this because they couldn’t come up with a better way
to try to absolve and/or explain the involvement of the work’s lead personality
in the business of feeding opium to the masses (that surely had a hand
in weakening China, and therefore making it more prone to be exploited
and run over by others) along with his at least partially assenting collusion
with the Kuomintang (whose Beijing-based top rankers are depicted as being
apt to reduce the Shanghainese socio-economic elite into powerless shells
of what they previously were as well as pawns in their own city).
Despite his attempting to suggest that “I’m illiterate
but I am smart”, this is not the impression this (re)viewer got about Luk
Yuet San. Instead, this individual increasingly came across as a
disappointingly small as well as extremely small-minded man who, even in
his humbler days, was saddled with the supposedly archetypal traditional
Chinese problem of being overly preoccupied with having and maintaining
“face” (at the expense of everything and everyone else). Worse, with
each passing year and rise in social station, there seemed to have developed
an increasing cowardly streak on the titular lord’s part that was apt to
manifest itself most markedly in the man’s turning to alcohol and sexual
practices in times of danger and trauma for his loved ones, others he professed
to care for, his supposedly beloved city, and the larger world.
An action that resulted in Carina Lau’s Miss Liu
character being condemned to terrible torture in the first of this two
film series was already pretty hard to take, never mind excuse (the decision
of the man who sacrificed one of two women he supposedly loved dearly).
However, LORD OF EAST CHINA SEA II “trumps” this by having a truly disturbing
montage which shows Luk Yuet San getting drunk and fornicating -- with
Cecilia Yip’s consenting Donna character -- while Japanese soldiers go
about doing such as burying alive Chinese men and raping Chinese women
(misdeeds which the work’s viewers are left with little doubt that that
duo were aware was happening in other parts of Shanghai while they did
what they did). When taken together with his being so ill-prepared
for the fall of Shanghai as to be performing Chinese opera when Japanese
bombs started to rain on the city and opting to dance with a professional
hostess while his eldest son got led away to jail by an enemy, one can
only conclude that the ultimate fate that this far from noble person was
shown having was one that was actually too good for him to deserve.
After spending more than 4 hours viewing LORD
OF EAST CHINA SEA II as well as I, I have to confess to feeling pretty
puzzled as to why it is that Luk Yuet San was thought worthy of being the
subject of any bio-pic, let alone one -- or two, depending on how one counts
it -- as lengthy and big budget as this Stephen Chiu production.
Something else that I want to know is how and why it is that prominently
billed plus not at all untalented actors and actresses like Elvis Tsui,
Carina Lau and Cecilia Yip were accorded so little screen time by the people
in charge of making this work (As with Part I, Kent Cheng is about the
only other actor other than Ray Lui to have a chance to stamp his presence
on the often good looking, but weakly scripted, cinematic fare).
The major thought that kept on occurring to me as I took in this seriously
disappointing offering though was that so much had been wasted on making
a thoroughly mediocre -- as well as neither very edifying nor entertaining
My rating for the film: 5.
Distributed by Media Asia/Mega Star
The transfer is excellent - very sharp and
clean. The DVD version appears to be even shorter than the video version
that YTSL watched - this clocks in at 98 minutes.
Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks
The subtitles are Chinese, English, Japanese,
Bahasa Malaysia, Thia, Vietnamese, Spanish or none.
There is a trailer for this film - and also
ones for Lord of East China I, Black Cat I & II.