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TIFF 2023 Review: The Movie Emperor – “Andy Lau fully embraces this irreverent attitude”

Movie star Lau Wai-Chi decides to star in a project that will dominant the film festival circuit and lead to numerous awards.

After losing the Best Actor Award to a performer playing a peasant, Lau Wai-Chi decides to attempt to do the same thing.  A research trip provides extra material that gets incorporated into the script and causes complications when a gift from a villager gets discarded and discovered.  Then there is the matter of a parked car at the hotel that gets damaged by Wai-Chi which leads to his conflict escalating with the mysterious owner.

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Surreal imagery is paramount like the polishing machine taking part of the red carpet with it, a distorting water bottle, a tree getting cut down, a wayward pig running across a board table, and cracks multiplying so fast that glass shatters.  It is a mixed result as some of the surreal moments are outright funny while others feel surreal for the sake of being surreal.  The music goes along for the ride expressing an almost whimsical attitude that plays well with the satirical tone that exposes the excesses and absurdity of the movie industry.

Andy Lau fully embraces this irreverent attitude; his character’s idea of going local is to stay in a three-star hotel where he has fun getting rhythmic with a pair of squeaky chairs.  Technically the editing, sound design and cinematography is slick and effective but what is lacking is the script which Lau can compensate for to some degree.  There was not the desired emotional release for the closing shot which to its credit does literally and figuratively take a different spin.  Not everything goes as expected which is a good thing; however, the story leans so heavily on surrealness that it becomes rather repetitive which undermines the desired emotion scope.

The 48th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 7-17, 2023, and for more information visit    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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