Acclaimed Chinese director Chen Kaige reached international fame with “Farewell My Concubine” and despite his somewhat misfire with “The Promise” (one of the most expensive Chinese films ever made), his talent still spoke volumes when it comes to weaving tales of tragedy with high art. “Sacrifice” is Kaige’s return to form. Successfully blending themes of honor, betrayal, irony and tragic revenge under some Shakespearean overtones and intense action.
The film is an adaptation of the play “The Orphan of Zhao” as it tells the tale of a powerful general called Tu’an Gu (Wang Xuegi). The general hatches a scheme to grab the throne by killing the Duke (Peng Bo) and pinning the crime on some of his rivals, the dedicated Zhao clan. However, the duke’s sister, Zhungji (Fan Bing-Bing) is pregnant with the child of general Zhao Shuo (Zhao Wen-Zhou). After the massacre of the entire Zhao family and the threat to kill other infants, this child is left as its last surviving son because of the efforts of a physician named Cheng Ying (Ge You) and his wife (Hai Qing); but this comes at a high price to Cheng. Now, after so much loss and tragedy, Cheng Ying raises the last Zhao as his own, all in an effort to protect the child from Tu’an’s clutches.
I have tried my best to keep my synopsis as vague as possible, since to truly enjoy this film, one should have close to zero knowledge as to how the plot unfolds. What is about to follow is an analysis of the film that may contain some minor spoilers, so if you are the kind who’d like to see this with no knowledge, then you should skip to the last paragraph. But for those who’d like to read more, please bear with me. Kaige always had a knack for finding the right actors for the right roles, and he proves it once again with his latest film.
Yes, “Sacrifice” is rich with Shakespearean themes. It is a story of revenge and really, just how justified a revenge can be. The film uses the many situations presented rather than its scale to unleash its emotions upon its viewers. It starts off in a powerful first half, as Kaige uses drama mixed in with some bloody fights to make a strong exclamation point. The scenes where infants were threatened were very unnerving. The film is rich with several gripping scenes of fear and confusion, strong dramatic content and suspense. With Cheng Ying and his wife caught at a life or death situation, the screenplay capitalizes on the characters and the situation to create the tension to allow the viewer to take everything in. With the supporting characters played by Fan Bing-Bing, Zhang Feng-yi and Huang Xiaoming (plays a significant role as Cheng’s confidant), the screenplay and the direction defines the stakes and even creates a despicable character marvelously played by Wang Xueqi.
The first half defines Cheng, and Kaige has the right actor for the right role. Ge You was amazing in his role and here, he convinces with his scenes of thinly-disguised emotions. He was so convincing in his performance as the man who would use an orphan as an instrument of revenge, and credible in his plot to exact such a revenge. The actor certainly played his heart out in expressing the needed emotions; he was sympathetic and yet, I could not help feel repulsed by his steps to manipulate such a vengeance. Wang Xueqi matches the actor play by play, and the two connect in a manner that truly grabbed the attention of the audience. There is mistrust indeed between the two, but somehow, they manage to be in the same room together because of young, orphaned Cheng Bo. The drama of the scenes felt very real and natural, you truly see the three bond in a way that you would know that tragedy is about to come into their lives.
The second half is where the teenage orphan grows up under the tutelage of Tu’an, and while still good in quality loses some of its dramatic momentum. The character now played by Zhao Wenhao is the obvious weak link in the narrative as he struggled with strong emotions that marked his character. The film also goes into a small cat and mouse game, as Cheng and Tu’an harbor more suspicions and yet, they allow things to naturally unfold. The second half also left some minor plot holes that causes the drama to become a little cluttered and untidy. There was too much that went on, with one reveal after the other, that some characters lost integrity. The strong situation becomes a little too scattered as Wenhao, and even Ge You and Wang Xueqi struggled to maintain their footing with their roles. The fights in the second half felt more like an effort to display the developing bond between Tu'an and Bo'ar when in the first half, the violence were meant to underline its tragedy.
Be that as it may, the film was able to keep things together. The powerful first half even wihen the second half’s weaknesses hampers the film’s strength. It does build up to the final act wonderfully but the climax seems to resolve in a way that came a little too simply and wasn’t able to match the power of the first half. This is not a negative comment but rather an observation. The first half was just such a tough act to follow, that anything may just seem to be a little lacking. Still, “Sacrifice” turned out to be a wonderful film. The stakes were carefully defined, it had a powerful middle climax, and as a whole, the film can match other great Chinese epics play by play. The martial arts sequences proved to be an essential part of its narrative, but never its central focus to create a spectacle of swordplay. Chen Kaige made a beautiful, dramatic, tense film that is sure to get a reaction. Chen Kaige had redeemed himself after his small misfire “The Promise”.
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 … more
Star Rating: The premise of Sacrifice does not sit well with me, but then again, perhaps that was the intention. Taking place in ancient China, it tells the melodramatic story of a man who uses his adopted son as a means to seek restitution of the death of his biological son; on the basis of the movie’s emotional and fatalistic ending, it’s quite possible that the film was supposed to be broadly moralistic in much the same way as fairy tales or other … more
After his somewhat misfire "The Promise", director Chen Kaige returns to form with "Sacrifice". Somewhat Shakespearean in themes and then becomes somewhat cerebral, the film takes off as it takes situations over scale. Ge You comes out with an outstanding performance while Wang Xueqi is both detestable and sympathetic as T'uan. This is the kind of film whose characters and situations drive its story and what comes out is a truly engaging … more
Plot: The story is set in the Jin state during the Spring and Autumn Period of ancient China. The chancellor Zhao Dun and his son, general Zhao Shuo, have a rift with general Tu Angu. Tu secretly murders the duke with poison and pushes the blame to the Zhao family, using that as an excuse to massacre the entire Zhao clan of about 300 people. The only survivor is Zhao Shuo's baby son Zhao Wu, born to the duke's older sister Princess Zhuang. Zhuang pleads with Tu Angu's subordinate Han Jue to spare her child and commits suicide after entrusting Zhao Wu to the physician Cheng Ying, telling Cheng to bring the child to Gongsun Chujiu, a friend of the Zhao family. When Tu Angu learns that the orphan had escaped, he slashes his sword at Han Jue's face in anger, disfiguring him. Subsequently, Tu issues orders to seal the gates and to gather all newborn babies in the city. The ploy was to identify the Zhao orphan since Tu was counting on those hiding the baby(Cheng) to not hand him over; hence singling out the one baby left in the city to be the Zhao infant.
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 ...