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The Message

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The Message

(Feng Sheng)

Canadian Premiere

  • China 2009
  • 120 min
  • 35mm
  • Mandarin with English subtitles
WINNER: Best Actress (Li Bingbing), Golden Horse Awards 2009
Closing Film, Pusan International Film Festival 2009
Official Selection, Udine Far East Film Festival 2010


HistoricalDramaCrime / Thriller

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“One of the best contemporary mainland films to date… a sophisticated, entertaining, well-crafted piece of cinematic art” — Winnie Yeung, HK ONLINE


Director: Chen Kuo-Fu & Gao Qunshu
Screenplay: Chen Kuo-Fu, Zhang Jailu, from Jia Maii
Cast: Zhou Xun, Li Bingbing, Zhang Hanyu, Huang Xiaoming, Wang Zhiwen
Producers: Chen Kuo-Fu, Wang Zhongjun, Wang Zhonglei
Print Source: Huayi Brothers



Everyone has secrets, but there are times in history when secrets are more likely to get you killed. In China of the early ’40s, occupied by the Japanese and overseen by a puppet government, a series of bold assassinations have the authorities on edge. A figure called the Phantom is providing the resistance with the intelligence needed to coordinate the killings, and the trail of the Phantom leads to the government’s own counterinsurgency department. Five employees—straight-laced code-breaker Li, her brash friend Gu, the hapless and nerdy Jin, flamboyantly effeminate Bai and stern, menacing military man Wu—are brought to an ominous, gothic seaside edifice called Qiu Manor. Beneath the superficial hospitality of Japanese officer Takeda and his Chinese underling Commissioner Wang, the gears of investigation have begun turning. One of these five people is the mole, and Colonel Takeda and his henchmen will use clever mind games and surveillance—and no small amount of brutal torture—to bring forth the truth. It is a process that will take a terrible toll on captives and captors alike.

Arriving on the tail of THE FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC, the exciting period blockbuster THE MESSAGE matches that superstar propaganda piece in honouring Chinese national spirit and sacrifice (both salute the PRC’s 60th anniversary), and though ostensibly smaller in the scope of its tale, outdoes it by far in visual potency, solid-as-stone cinematic storytelling and wise ambiguity. Soaked in deliciously dark and opulent atmosphere and carried by camerawork that frets, prowls and periodically lunges, it’s a loving pastiche of the classic cinema of the era—the slow-burning spy thriller, the puzzling whodunit and, once the figures in this sinister chess game are assembled, the spooky dark-old-house chiller. The core drama is an elaborate charade in which the tiniest word or gesture can prove deadly, and in that spirit, the standout cast of award-winning talents handles the material with great care. Intricate, elegant yet unflinching, and crackling with understated energy, it’s no mystery that THE MESSAGE has hit home with so many moviegoers.

—Rupert Bottenberg

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