Emperor Visits the Hell

唐皇游地府 (Tang huang you difu)
China 2012. Dir: Li Luo. 67 min.

Winner of the 2012 Dragons and Tigers Prize at VIFF, this is a quietly astonishing tour de force that hinges on a lovely conceit: relocating to the present-day the famous story of the Tang dynasty Emperor Taizong’s visit to the underworld. Shot in elegant, black-and-white long takes, the film spins a tale of a local river god, the Dragon King, who, feuding with a fortune teller, alters the weather without authorization and is condemned to death. When the Emperor fails to commute the god’s sentence, otherworldly retribution is swift: he is summoned to Hell. Li’s audacious use of multiple levels of storytelling and filmmaking craftily and joyously subverts every authority around. In Mandarin with English subtitles.