Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Goddess of Mercy

1966's The Goddess of Mercy is -- more or less -- the story of the Chinese deity Kwanyin (or at least one story of the deity's origin). Li Li-Hua plays the daughter of Emperor Miao Cheung who attempts to bring mercy to her people (and her father's prisoners of war) and then suffers the wrath of her father.

From what little I know of Li Li-Hua, the role wasn't much of a stretch for her; she looks the part and acts with a good deal of grace throughout the film, never even soiling her garments when sloshing through mud(!). While she makes for a believable Kwanyin-figure, she doesn't make for a believable human character of Princess Miao Shang. And her scenes with Commander Wei (Cheung Kwong Chiu) fall a bit flat.

The film is a series of scenes with the princess constantly pushing back at her father's abuse and mistreatment of his subjects.

Eventually, there are some instances of direct divine intervention which make the film feel like "The Song of Bernadette" or something.

Still, I did find it fascinating to see a film with a real layer of Buddhist thought to it (unlike those Journey to the West films where the Buddhism is an afterthought to the adventures).

Look for Ouyang Sha Fei and future director Kao Pao Shu as the two other daughters, and Chen Yan Yan as the mother.

I must have watched a lot of these Shaw features because I was right when I thought I recognized Lily Li in a very small but important part as a handmaiden who falls afoul of the emperor.

The ending was surprisingly bloody but, in retrospect, seems almost inevitable now given the earlier parts of the story.

And if that ending shocked me, it shouldn't as it clearly illustrated some basic Buddhist concepts perfectly.

The film was reportedly a big budget Chinese/Korean production of the time and the money is on the screen; the production values and sets are impressive and there are certainly a lot of extras in the film.

A minor film but certainly an interesting one that attempts to illustrate morality without too much preaching.
You can order The Goddess of Mercy on DVD here.