It’s a new movie (2010) but an ancient story akin to the birth of Christ. This one happened around Yuan Dynasty, where the chancellor (Zhao clan) and the general (Tu) who are somewhat not on good terms had one of them plotted to kill the other by first murdering the duke (supposedly the ruler then) and blaming that murder onto the Zhao family. The entire Zhao family was ultimately killed with a baby left to be saved by the physician Zheng (also acting in the role of bringing the baby to this world) who then brought up the kid in preparation for a revenge because his son was killed by general Tu. The story also mentioned that all babies that were born in that city was searched and captured to force the parties concerned (the physician family & the family friend) to surrender the baby. Otherwise, all babies would have been killed if the said baby was not found. Sound familiar, isn’t it?
What is spectacular in this movie is that the scriptwriter and director found a new angle to tell an old story. I was totally surprised at how interesting it had been, especially when many Chinese film's plots have become so stale these days that I either found it a stack of BS or after just 20 mins of the movie one’ll know how it’d progress to the end! Ge You is the main lead in this one, as with the focus of characters. The main story (plot) became minor and simply a backbone to showcase and portray the emotions and motivations of the characters. It is a movie that’s not concentrating on hate but more on how each character has a part to play and a role to fulfill. For those familiar with Chinese actors and actresses, you'll also find it refreshing that famous stars are acting supporting roles but these are roles that the director has focused his screenplay on instead.
Some very touching scenes come from minor characters like the servants of the family who risked their lives to save their master while they were being pursued by the enemy. It tells of a time where loyalty is highly prized and ingrained in people (especially the subordinates). It also reflected the big gap between cruelty and kindness in humans. While we know how the story will eventually end (more or less), it is very refreshing to watch a new way of storytelling. On many occasions in this movie I found myself wondering how the movie will progress. It all aroused my curiosity as to how each character will evolved. To say that this movie is engaging is not an overstatement. Credits should be given to all parties concerned. It’s been a long while since I found an old story highly stimulating. That is a big accomplishment for the Chinese film industry and credit is due to the director Chen Kaige who both direct and script write this movie!
For those who are not familiar with the Chinese way of storytelling, I think you’ll find it refreshing even if you watched some of the older movies. Yet, for those who frequent the Chinese cinemas, you’ll lose interest after a year or two generally. There are just too many craps out there. I’m glad to say this one is not one that anyone should miss. If you’ve not heard of Ge You, he’s one of the most popular actors now in the Chinese film industry. He’s not good looking nor suave, but he’s certainly versatile in his roles. A very good actor too! Although I am not a fan of his, I do think he has his reasons for success. It seems that he’s the darling of the movie industry in both China and Hong Kong this year! There are at least 3 movies that he has lead roles in this Chinese New Year! That’s quite a spectacular performance for an actor with so many talents around!
Just some trivia about the story background. It is a play from the Yuan Dynasty which titled Orphan of Zhao. It is also the first Chinese play known in Europe back then in 1735. The main story is based on Emperor Zhao who as betrayed by one of his generals. It revolves around saving the bloodline of the family and seeking a revenge and regaining the empire ultimately. This movie is based on the play that has been revised by many Europeans.
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Cheng Ying brings the baby Zhao Wu home, but alas, his wife gives up the child to the searching soldiers, claiming Zhao Wu as her own son. Cheng then asks Gongsun Chujiu to bring his wife and son ...