Film Review: Enter the Forbidden City

STUDIO: Cinema Libre | DIRECTOR: Mei Hu | CAST: Dalong Fu, Jinghan Ma, Yiji Ma, Ziwen Wang
RELEASE DATE: Aug. 18, 2020 | PRICE: DVD $13.50, Blu-ray $17.99
SPECS: NR | 113 min. | Historical Drama | Mandarin with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 1/2

Set in China’s Qing Dynasty 230 years ago, the lavish and ambitious period drama Enter the Forbidden City brings to life the origins of the famed Peking opera. When Yue Jiu (Dalong Fu, Purple Sunset), the most famous opera singer in all of Imperial China, is expelled from the capital city for vulgarity, he heads south, where he encounters Wang Runsheng (Ma Jinghan, Palace Lock Heart Jade), a promising young opera singer for the Chuntai Troupe.

As Jiu and Runsheng begin to learn from each other, the Emperor invites all of China’s opera troupes back to the capital city for his 80th birthday celebration and they decide to risk their lives to perform.

“Watch with your heart,” Runsheng is told when he first comes upon Jiu practicing. It’s advice I would give to any prospective viewers of Enter the Forbidden City. Chinese cinema has a flavor and rhythm all its own, so put aside the traditional Hollywood narrative expectations and open your heart and mind to the bold splendor of this artistic achievement.

Based entirely on historical events, the film is masterfully helmed by one of China’s preeminent female directors Mei Hu (Confucius) from an all-encompassing script by Zou Jingzhi (Coming Home). Shot entirely on location in and around the Forbidden City, cinematographer Danny Chen (Sky Hunter) excels at magnifying the beauty of every aspect of the country, whether it’s the elaborate and colorful theaters within the city walls or the lush, quiet countryside.

The artistry and attention to detail is realized in every frame – from the over 200 hand tailored costumes, the elegant choreography and lyrical score – all work seamlessly to enhance the story about the cultural birth of Chinese Opera.

The visual quality of the Blu-ray Disc is excellent but, unfortunately there aren’t any extra features. A behind-the-scenes featurette on the production’s history would have been of great interest as Hu and her team faced several challenges over the course of the film’s six year development. My only real compliant would be the size of the film’s subtitles. I’m an avid foreign film goer, so following captions are second nature and hardly ever interfere with my ability to follow and enjoy a film. However, with the smaller size of these subtitles, I found myself having to rewind a few times to catch the dialogue.

That aside, if you enjoy large-scale, vivid filmmaking, then I suggest you Enter the Forbidden City.

Buy or Rent Enter the Forbidden City

About Janine

Janine is a dedicated fan of the 1940 film Kitty Foyle, directed by Sam Wood, written by Dalton Trumbo and starring Ginger Rogers, who won an Oscar for her portrayal. And seeing that film is all it took to make her a lifelong movie lover. Janine is excited to add her insights to the great team at