Rating: 3 out of 5
The 1950s were well-known for their heightened sense of collective Communist paranoia. America famously faced the persecution of McCarthyism during the Second Red Scare.
Less well-known but equally horrific was the suppression and accusations that faced innocent men and women in Taiwan during the White Terror campaign.
The slightest suspicion of being Communist or a Communist sympathiser was often enough justification to earn imprisonment and the likelihood of a swift death by firing squad. Such is the wearying effect of martial law as imposed by the Kuomintang government.
Prince of Tears tells the smaller story of a particular family caught in the growing tide of demagogic distrust.
Sun Han-sun (Joseph Chang) is a decorated and handsome fighter pilot, married to the beautiful Ping (Zhu Xuan). Together with their two adorably precocious daughters, the family is introduced in the opening stanza living the happily ever-after life, so often enclosed within the final page of a fairy-tale.
Unfortunately for them, this fairy-tale is inverted and the happily ever-after only comes in the beginning. Only the trials and tragedy of harsh fate awaits the handsome prince, beautiful princess and charming children for the rest of the story.
Han-sun and Ping are suddenly arrested, leaving the children confused and deserted to the pitiless realities of the world. The worst horrors don’t come from the oppressive government though, but rather from the everyday evils of gossip, greed and jealously within their own community.
Prince of Tears is elegantly told and fairly straightforward story about betrayal and corruption. It’s pacing is leisurely and those with little patience for gradual storytelling may become very easily annoyed.
Despite the seemingly sluggish narrative (emphasise again, it’s not, but I can see why many would think so) the glossy Technicolor visuals are quite stunning to behold and I very much doubt you’d be bored by the graceful aesthetics. That’d be akin to complaining that a gorgeous sunset is taking too long.
Much like Hong Kong contemporary Wong Kar Wai, Yonfan has always had a knack for crafting highly-stylised visual poetry to accompany his melancholy stories. The textural eye candy of pretty people in pretty period settings in Prince of Tears is indeed magnificent but sublime cinematography can only carry you far.
The narrative is overly convoluted and becomes more and more like a daytime soap opera the longer it goes on. As the plot twists and seedy secrets are all revealed in the closing 20 minutes, one cannot help but chuckle in incredulity.
Your enjoyment of this film wholly hinges on your taste for Yonfan’s fairy-tale romanticism and visual panache. Such breathtaking flourishes are nice accessories and all but as a story, it all feels conspicuously empty to this reviewer.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini, aka inSing.com's Movie Lover, is 23-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for Metrowize Asia.
Hidzir is the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.