The story of Hannibal Lecter continues, what with so many movies starring everyone's favourite cannibal - Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon. In most of these movies, Sir Anthony Hopkins brought to live the vivid horror of the character, sending chills down your bones with his measured performance and that steely gaze. It's natural that in following recent trend, there would be a prequel movie made of sorts which goes back to the origins of the primary character, in an attempt to explain and discover who he is, and what made him to be.
Written by Thomas Harris, which makes the proceedings of the mythos here canon, you would have half expected something special. Instead, it turned out to be rather run-off-the-mill, succumbing to many instances of easy coincidences for the most parts, with its revenge theme making Hannibal Lecter more of a vigilante rather than a calculated serial killer.
Then again, we're looking at his past, all the way back to 1944 towards the tail end of WWII, where the Lecter family have to vacate their Lithuanian castle. His family gets massacred during a crossfire, leaving him to fend for himself and his sister Mischa. But in times of chaos and hunger, the advancing Russian troops ate what they could, hence leading to revenge burning deep inside Hannibal, probably snapping his mind in the process. It then played out like Bruce Wayne's quest to seek justice, with his travels, attainment of skills through medical school, and from an acquaintance with a distant aunt, played by Gong Li. And as all brash youth go, his techniques lack finesse, and he makes a number of mistakes which he learns from.
Gaspard Ulliel takes over from Sir Anthony Hopkins as the title character, since the latter can't possibly play the role of a much younger Hannibal without the prolonged aid of digital effects which did the job for Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in X-Men 3. Some of you might have seen Gaspard in A Very Long Engagement, and I thought he did quite an OK job with the role. Don't compare him with Hopkins as he'll definitely fall short, relying for the most parts on his snarl and stare.
Gong Li seemed to have taken up a lot more roles in the West, barring her inability to speak good English. You can't fault the lass for trying, and here, although her diction is still poor and you scratch your head wondering what she had just said, it has definitely improved. However, the role as Lady Murasaki Shikibu is almost decorative, adding little depth to the Hannibal role besides being an alternative of a life that could have been, an abandonment of love for revenge and the thirst for blood.
Some of the gruesome bits got censored here, but I suspect that even if they were left untouched, it'll probably be more for the gore factor rather than to serve up real fear and horror. Plenty of decapitations, but no scene that'll really make you reel from and cringe, which I thought that finale scene in Hannibal is the scene to beat. And that pretty much sums up the movie - plenty of potential to tap on the origins, motivation and rationale of the Hannibal character, but ended up very much vanilla plain.