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LI LIANYING - THE IMPERIAL EUNUCH

Hong Kong, 1991 (MIFF 1991, Hong Kong)

Director: Tian Zhuangzhuang

From Tian Zhuangzhuang, the director of Horse Thief, comes this unique re-telling of the long reign of Tz'u-hsi, the Empress Dowager of turn-of-the-century China, as seen through the memory of Li Lianying, her chief eunuch.The story slips back and forth in time within a forty year scope, as the elderly Li remembers scenes from his life in the Forbidden City, serving the "Old Buddha", as Tz'u-hsi was often called. Li is a very powerful figure in her empire, more powerful than the Emperor himself. Although a slave, he is also adviser, confidant and trusted friend.

This strange and fascinating relationship between empress and eunuch, spanning decades of Machiavellian manoeuvres, executions, betrayals, and the ever-increasing encroacliment of the Western world, is beautifully played by Liu Xiaoqing (Red Sorghum) and the always wonderful Jiang Wen in the lead roles. By turns a tender, pitiless and ultimately tragic tale, sumptuously designed and photographed, Li Lianying, the Imperial Eunuch is a fresh and unexpected angle on this well-trod historical epoch. What's also notable about this colourful and lavish period piece is that Hong Kong and mainland Chinese filmmakers co-operated to place die best talents from both industries into this seamless co-production.

"I prepared for playing Li Lianying by reading everything I could find about the man himself and by spending many hours talking with a real-life eunuch, one of the last survivors from the Imperial Court. From him, I learnt that eunuchs, being neither male nor female, had incredibly rich fantasy lives. They became something more than ordinary people, dreaming a world of their own into existence." - Jiang Wen

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