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Japan 1955
Directed by
Kenji Mizoguchi
91 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Empress Yang Kwei Fei

The Empress Yang Kwei Fei is more typical of the output of producer Run Run Shaw, one half of the Shaw Brothers,, titans of the Hong Kong film industry than Mizoguchi’s more intimate and typically refined style. One could make a sound case, however, that it is thematically consistent with one of the director’s principal concerns – the plight of women in a patriarchal social order.

Here the context is the stunningly hidebound order of feudal China and the woman is Yang Kwei Fei (Machiko Kyo) a kind of Cinderella figure (complete with three ugly sisters) the poor relative of the Yang family who use her as a scullery maid until she becomes an unlikely candidate for the the attentions of Emperor Huan Tsung (Masayuki Mori) who is grieving his dead wife. He falls in love with her and as a result advances her scheming family but their greed and arrogance cause a rebellion which is only quelled by Kwei Fei sacrificing her life.

The only film that Mizoguchi made about a non-Japanese subject and one of only two that he made in colour (the other being The New Tales Of The Taira Clan, released later in 1955) it is a highly stylized, visually splendid historical romance that clearly owes much to traditional Chinese painting and literary themes.

FYI: The two leads both featured in Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monagatari (1953) with Mori as the humble potter, Genjuro, and Kyo as the seductive ghost, Lady Wakasa.




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