All the King’s Men… King Hu’s. In the same year as one of his most misunderstood films (namely All the King’s Men), Chinese director King Hu worked with Li Hsing and Pai Ching-jui on a Taiwanese drama divided into three chapters set in different times but which share recurring motifs, including the presence of the three main actors – Sylvia Peng Hsueh-fen, Chiang Huo-jen and Shih Chun – playing roles which are different but also linked to one another. King Hu opens the film with a wuxia set during the Ming dynasty, where secret police and rebels fight not only for territory but above all for love. This is followed by the episode directed by Li Hsing, another story of tormented love, this time set in the early twentieth century and examining the adversities caused by rigid classism. The film closes with the third segment directed by Pai Ching-jui, set in the present day, where the problems of love find solutions in spirituality and in religion.
Though the multiple role element is not a novelty, The Wheel of Life’s strength lies in the eclecticism of its staging, a stylistic polyphony that gives the work a thematic cohesion and at the same time develops unique formal ideas. With his drama set in dark and claustrophobic interiors, Li also evokes the classic parallels between art and life found in theatrical performance. Pai, on the other hand, is modern both in terms of context and aesthetic choices, going so far as to use artisan special effects. But predictably, it is King Hu who dominates, his short film replicating the rhythm and understanding of space of his previous masterpieces: an essay of the gaze which moves like an arrow through exteriors where horizontality and verticality intertwine without solution of continuity.
Different forms, a single common denominator (as the film’s international title underlines): life. Life as a continuous and uninterrupted flow; home to challenges and disappointments, betrayed illusions and tragic confirmations, returns and impressions, epiphanies and reality. Life which knows no rest, which knows no boundaries despite remaining inevitably bound to them, be they cultural, political, caste or ideological. Which does not seem to admit digressions but which is probably open to all possible developments (the film in fact closes on the hypothesis of a fourth chapter, just as there could be a fifth, and then a sixth...). Life, in short, as an exchange, both violent and passionate, between persons – a dialogue between men and ages in which it is destiny – or perhaps, more correctly, chance – that speaks. All the men of the world.