Prince of the Himalayas

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Shanghai Film Studios/Hus Entertainment

"Prince of the Himalayas" is that rara avis in the world of cinema -- a film that is genuinely new and different.

Shanghai-born director and co-writer Sherwood Hu has adapted Shakespeare's "Hamlet" to the rugged highlands of ancient Tibet. A cast composed entirely of Tibetan actors, speaking in their own tongue -- a movie first as far as anybody can tell -- gives this exhilarating epic in an authenticity even if the antique world depicted largely is one of the imagination.

"Prince" was made almost simultaneously with "The Banquet" (2006), in which one of China's most commercial directors, Feng Xiaogang, adapted the dark tale of the Prince of Denmark to A.D. 907 China. That film was all pomp and flash with an inert story at its core. Hu's version, though, is a vigorous and muscular entertainment that played to enthusiastic sold-out audiences at the recently wrapped AFI Fest. The film certainly plays to American audiences if Hu can hook up with an adventurous distributor.

Unique among "Hamlet" interpreters, Hu offers a sympathetic portrait of the king's killer, his brother (Dobrgyal), and Hamlet's mother (Zomskyid), who are seen as victims rather than villains. The prince, too, has undergone a major shift in that his quest turns out to be less to determine the killer and seek revenge than a search for his own identity. Purba Rgyal, trained as a singer and dancer but not an actor, attacks the role of the prince with such energy and abandon that he overcomes his lack of experience.

Cinematographers Cheng Yuanhai and Shao Dan move the camera constantly, as if so in awe of the savage landscape and all the gold jewelry and costumes of animal skins and exotic fabrics that it can't stop searching for new wonders. At times, the film overflows with its heated rhetoric and emotions running amok, but Hu's strong emphasis on spirituality breathes life anew into a magnificent old war horse.
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