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Where EAST meets the Northwest

UNAPPETIZING. Gong Li (left) plays Lady Murasaki and Gaspard Ulliel (right) plays Hannibal Lecter in Peter Webber’s Hannibal Rising. (Photos/Keith Hampshere, courtesy of the Weinstein Company)

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #8 (February 20, 2007), page 15.

Not even Gong Li can save Hannibal Rising

Hannibal Rising

Directed by Peter Webber

Produced by Etic Films, Dino de Laurentiis Company, and Quintas Communications

Distributed by MGM and the Weinstein Company

Now showing at area theaters

By Edward J. Han

During her twenty years of acting, Gong Li (Curse of the Golden Flower, Memoirs of a Geisha) has won numerous accolades. She is a highly regarded international star. In her latest role as Lady Murasaki in Hannibal Rising, however, the Chinese-born actress’s talent is not enough to save a mediocre film.

Hannibal Lecter is one of the best-known cinematic villains in the world. In the series prequel, author and screenwriter Thomas Harris reveals how his epicurean psychiatrist becomes the cannibalistic monster that terrified audiences in Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, and Hannibal.

At the end of World War II, Eastern Europe is in turmoil. In Lithuania, the battle between the Soviets and Nazis has found its way to the small town where Lecter Castle stands. Eight-year-old Hannibal and his family flee to their secluded country home. When his parents are tragically killed, the young boy is forced to take care of his little sister, Mischa, as snow begins to blanket the forest. The events that unfold during this winter will haunt Hannibal’s dreams for years to come.

After the war has ended, Lecter Castle is transformed into a Soviet orphanage. Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) becomes a prisoner in both his own home and his own mind. The desire to speak vanishes and the only sounds he makes are the screams that wake him nightly. Hannibal eventually escapes and travels to France, in search of family.

Upon arriving in Paris, young Lecter is greeted by his uncle’s widow. The beautiful and mysterious Lady Murasaki (Gong Li) welcomes him to Chateau Vigo. Her gentleness soon coaxes Hannibal out of his silent world. He learns about the Japanese warrior culture and, while enrolled in medical school, develops an interest in human physiology. Through self-inflicted procedures, Hannibal is able to retrieve the latent memories that have shaped who he is. Upon discovering the truth about his past, Lecter begins a gruesome series of vengeful acts that not even Lady Murasaki’s love is able to stop him from completing.

The problem with Hannibal Rising does not lie in the acting. Ulliel succeeds in portraying a troubled young man with whom the audience can sympathize. Gong Li has good screen presence and does all she can within the assigned role. But the movie lacks suspense and its imagery is completely over the top. This film simply tries too hard. Just as Lady Murasaki cannot keep Lecter from becoming a serial killer, Gong Li is unable to save Hannibal Rising from joining the ranks of sequels/prequels that fall short of the original.

Hannibal Rising is playing at theaters nationwide. To learn more, visit <www.hannibalrising.com>.