King Of Chess (1991)

Directed by
Half a good movie, half a not-so good movie
Reviewed by Simon on 2002-02-03

Not another God Of Gamblers spinoff, unforunately! A strange movie, directed by Yim Ho and produced by Tsui Hark. Tony Leung Ka-Fai stars and shares scriptwriting credits with Yim Ho.

The movie flits back and forth from Taiwan in 'the present day' to China during/after the cultural revolution. The story is split between that of a young kid, whom the producers of a TV show discover to have psychic powers, and Leung Ka Fai - the "King Of Chess" in China during the cultural revolution. It seems to be doing so in order to draw parallels between the times and places - to show that people's motivations and actions were still basically the same whether they were living under scary Communism or scary Capitalism. This is mainly demonstrated by the people around the little genius and the older genius, and their exploitation of them to serve their own interests.

Quite why a King Of Chess and a little psychic kid were chosen as the hook to hang these observations off I don't know. It doesn't seem particularly appropriate... the 2 characters and their stories don't appear to be symbolic of the times & places they are found in, and don't fit together with each other too well either. I think mainly it's the fault of the modern day tale, which seems kind of tacky compared to the nicely done sequences set in the past.

The movie opens with a rock song that sounds like a Communist Party propaganda track, and the montage of visuals matches this impression. Lots of footage of Chairman Mao and huge crowds of people looking terribly excited about the cultural revolution. It closes in a similar way. This kind of gives the impression that it is trying to say "look, the Cultural Revolution was really cool", but the footage inbetween doesn't tally with this. The movie isn't really saying either time or social system was/is better than the other, or suggest ways to improve the world - it just points out the problems with people in general.

Overall it is a visually nice movie, with a bunch of interesting scenes and some much less interesting scenes. The end result seems a little unfocussed, like they weren't quite sure what their point was. Or maybe it's just that *I* wasn't :p