The ‘Epic’ Tale of a Chinese Dynasty in Empire of Silver


This year’s “sweeping” post-post-Fifth-Gen Chinese epic, Empire of Silver is filthy with luxuriant clichés, from the sun-roasted Gobi landscapes to the turn-of-the-century city streets and palaces bustling with crowds and period detail. If it sometimes seems as if all that the Chinese industry learned from Hollywood is what they learned from the Liz Taylor Cleopatra, you can hardly be surprised—grand Orientalism still sells. (The producer here is Jeremy “The Last Emperor” Thomas.) Winnowed out of a three-volume popular novel and set on the eve of the Boxer Rebellions, Christina Yao’s debut film broad-brushes an old-fashioned wealthy-dynasty saga, in which a Godfather-like banking family with four sons faces tragedy, betrayal, financial skullduggery, and star-crossed romance (between HK star Aaron Kwok’s Michael Corleone–ish son No. 3—called Third—and Hao Lei’s radiant stepmom, stolen by Tielin Zhang’s bulldozer magnate dad). The movie leaps forward in familiar novel-adaptation cadences, but it’s tough not to get sidetracked contemplating the oddness of its Confucian banking guild (with its kung-fu army of bald preteen sons), and the emphasis on near-martial codes of fiscal honor. (Could’ve told you that wouldn’t last.) It’s decent, exoticized pulp with a porcelain veneer, and should be consumed idly.