China, 1899. In a land of exquisite beauty and timeless tradition a young man known as 'Third Master' is the heir to a banking fortune he cares little about. However, after his brother's wife is kidnapped he reluctantly submits to the pressure of his titles and his father, Lord Kang.
Lord Kang is determined to prepare his son for financial leadership by molding Third Master into his own image. But the strong-willed businessman's methods do not sit well with Third Master, who sees the salvation of his business in following the righteous path of his ancestors.
Third Master and Lord Kang's tense relationship is further complicated by the son's feelings for his beautiful young stepmother - his first and only love - stolen from him by his own father.
The fate of the banking empire and its most powerful family now lies with one idealistic young man torn between the needs of the people, the duty to his family and the undying love of a woman.
At the end of the 19th Century and the early 20th Century China, the time and setting of EMPIRE OF SILVER, the country was going through a cultural civil war between its conservative factors and its Westernized factors. The Boxer Rebellion, the Allied invasion and the Nationalist Revolution were all part of the process.
Inspired by historical events, EMPIRE OF SILVER offers a glimpse in to the lives of merchant families that ran the equivalent of modern day banks. Historically, many merchant families wielded significant influence in China and controlled various aspects of the nations finances. In particular, the Shanxi province in China was the region where many of these families resided. This province was dubbed "the Wall Street of China" by Sterling Seagrave in his book The Soong Dynasty.
Shanxi merchants during this era established a highly efficient business system which enabled them to financially challenge the imperial courts of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Some of systems they have been credited for innovating include the modern day wire transfer system and profit sharing. Many of these merchant groups also operated with business hierarchies with the equivalent of a business leader much like a modern day CEO.
Numerous themes emerged during the writing and filming of this movie. In particular, themes of social class, Confucianism, fate all succession of power, philosophy of rule, the role of the woman during that era, and the role of choice in determining one's own play prominent roles in the story.
- SOCIAL CLASS
- CONFUCIAN VALUES
- SUCCESSION OF POWER
- MAKING CHOICES IN LIFE
- PHILOSOPHY OF RULE
The story of Shanxi merchants has been buried for a century or more. This part of history was nearly forgotten due in part to the modesty and in part to the secrecy of the merchants. During China's imperial times, the merchant class was considered one of the lower classes. Merchants were oppressed by the court as they tended to be wealthy and thereby powerful. During certain dynasties, they were forbidden to wear silk in order to prevent them from exhibiting their wealth and thereby their ability to influence. Under such repression, the Shanxi merchants were able to steer away from the surveillance of the court to accumulate great wealth that rivaled the nation's treasury and power.
Confucian traditional values in many ways served as the behavioral codes for Shanxi merchants. They considered themselves "Confucian" merchants. They held high standards for morality and behavior and had strict codes of conduct especially for sexual behavior. Managers in their system were not permitted to divorce, have a concubine or visit brothels. From their assigned posts, they were allowed to go home to visit their wives and families once every three years for a six-month vacation. The solitary, monkish lifestyle facilitated the high performances of the managers.
SUCCESSION OF POWER
In EMPIRE OF SILVER, Third Master struggles between his public duty and his private wants when he is confronted with having to potentially take over the family empire. Feeling betrayed by his father for stealing the love of his life and realizing that his father's code of business conduct differs from his own, Third Master's journey to discover his own values and make the right choice for the fate of his family's fortune and the fate of an empire. During this era, the question of dynastic succession was an issue taken very seriously as it often meant whether a long lineage would continue or peter out of existence.
MAKING CHOICES IN LIFE
EMPIRE OF SILVER is about Third Master's making choices in life. Third Master is a man constantly asking himself what is right and what is wrong. His conscience makes him a prisoner to his own sense of moral obligation. He is a moral hero because he makes choices for the good of others, sacrificing what is dear to himself however keeping his conscience clear and his integrity intact.
PHILOSOPHY OF RULE
The chief conflict between Third Master and his father is not only the love of a woman, but primarily over their differences in ideological beliefs. Lord Kang represents the Legalist philosophy of ruling whereas Third Master represents the Confucian philosophy. Confucianism is about acting with humanity and kindness, while Legalism is about exerting control.The ideological differences between father and son heat up when Third Master must, as his biggest responsibility as heir, choose a CEO for the family piaohao. In the film, Lord Kang embodies the Legalist philosophy of rule by ruling through fear and dismissing Manager Qiu for misconduct. Third Master, however, is a Confucian man and aspires to follow his own conscience and ultimately chooses Manager Dai to take over the family empire given his impeccable professionalism.
Aaron Kwok (as Third Master)
Hong Kong superstar Aaron Kwok has earned a huge following of fans for acting in film, TV, and commercials as well as for his talent as singer and stage performer Kwok won Best Actor"two consecutive years in a row at Taiwan's coveted Golden Horse Awards. In 2005, Kwok won for his moving performance in Benny Chan's Divergence and again in 2006 for his role in Patrick Tam's After This our Exile His other film credits include: oxide Pang Chun's The Detective, Stanley Tong's China Strike Force, Johnnie Tos Throw Down and The Bare-Footed Kid, Dante Lam's Ambush, and keung Lau's The Storm Riders amongst countless other films. Kwok is frequently referred to as of the "Four Heavenly Kings, along with Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau and Leon Lai. He has also been dubbed "Hong Kong's Michael Jackson" for his concert performances.
Tielin Zhang (as Lord Kang)
Belonging to the famed Fifth Generation artist group, Tielin Zhang went through hardship during the Cultural Revolution and became one of the first group of students accepted by the reopened Beijing Film Academy along with Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige. Tielin's early film credits include leading roles in Han Hsiang Li's The Burning of Yuan Ming Yuan, The Queen's lnvolvement in Politics, Hark Tsui's films Once Upon A Time in China and The Magic Crane, and Chen Bai's Under the Bridge. At the height of his early career as a film actor, Tielin left China and went to study Directing at the British National Film and Television School. He received his MA degree in Directing in 1990. Throughout his career, Tielin has worked not only as an actor, but also as a producer, a TV personality, and as a film director. After returning to China in 1996, Tielin became a cultural icon. While one of the busiest actors currently in China, Tielin still manages to perform his duties as dean of the Arts College of Jinan University.
Hao Lei (as Madam Kang)
Hao Lei is one of the brightest gems of the many actresses in China. Her performances have been seen in countless TVseries and films. An accomplished actress, she has been acclaimed for the diversity of her challenging roles such as Ye Lou's Summer Palace and other impressive roles in TV series like "Misty Love in Palace" and "The Young Prince of Han"
Jennifer Tilly (as Mrs. Landdeck)
Jennifer Tilly's unique voice and persona have made her well-known to filmgoers everywhere Jennifer earned an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of the aspiring but hopelessly untalented actress Olive Neal in Woody Allen's Bullets over Broadway 1994). She had her first breakthrough role in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), and since has had numerous acclaimed performances including Jim Carrey's hit Liar Liar (1997) and in Larry and Andy Wachowski's Bound (1996). Other film credits include Neil Jordan's High Spirits (1988), Oliver Stone's The Door.(1991), Richard Benjamin's Made in America (1993), Roger Donaldson's The Getaway (1994), Joe Pytka's Let lt Ride (1989), and PJ.Castellaneta's Relax...It's Just Sex (1998).
Christina YaoDirector / Producer
Christina Yao makes her feature film directorial debut with the historical epic EMPIRE oF SILVER. She has an extensive theatrical repertoire, having directed over 30 plays for prestigious companies such as the American Conservatory Theatre and the NationalTheatre of Taiwan. Published in Taiwan, France and the US, yaois also an acclaimed short story writer, playwright and critical essayist. Yao's academic background has included Taipei's National Institute of the Arts, Wellesley College and San Francisco State University, Yao holds a Ph.D. in Asian Theatre from Stanford University.
Jeremy ThomasExecutive Producer
Jeremy Thomas producing career stretches back 30 years, collaborating with auteurs around the world including Nicolas Roeg, Nagisa Oshima, Stephen Frears, Bernardo Bertolucci, David Cronenberg, Terry Gilliam and tirelessly cultivating fresh talent. In 1988, Thomas won the "Best Picture Oscar for Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor”.