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December 5, 2010

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Orphan's revenge takes new focus

ONE child's life for 100 lives. What choice would you make? Chinese filmmaker Chen Kaige gives his answer in his latest history epic "Sacrifice."

The sentimental movie about murder and revenge in ancient China was released yesterday, raising the curtain on the New Year's movie season.

Based on the classic tale "The Orphan of Zhao," the film tells the story of the sole heir to a powerful clan who is unwittingly raised in the household of the man who murdered his family. The orphan is also unaware that he is being groomed as an instrument of revenge by a benefactor whose family was slain by the same man.

Obviously "revenge" is the key theme throughout the film. But unlike what was depicted in opera or other former stage productions, director Chen focuses on an ordinary person's fate instead of the orphan himself to fulfill his expedition of the complex humanity.

Humble doctor Cheng Ying played by Ge You protects the orphan at the expense of his own son, but then raises the orphan as a weapon of his own revenge.

When the villain general threatens to kill all 100 newly born babies in the city, the doctor has no choice but to hand over his own son and convince the general that his baby is the orphan of Zhao. In that way, the orphan of Zhao is protected from slaughter.

In director Chen's eyes, the doctor who protects others' children while sacrificing his own is just an ordinary person tricked by life. People won't see the doctor's sacrifice as such a heroic effort in his film, but the only choice everybody could make at that time.

The doctor's revenge takes more than 15 years. He asks the general to become the godfather of his son (who is actually the orphan of Zhao).

After the general gradually bonds and develops affection in the child and teaches him martial arts, the doctor tells the orphan of Zhao the truth, asking him to commit a revenge murder. However, things may not happen the way the doctor has expected for so many years.

Costume drama featuring distinctive elements of jealousy, conspiracy, murder and revenge is a preferential genre for Chen.

Following "The Emperor and the Assassin" and "Farewell My Concubine," in "Sacrifice," the director once again displays his perfectionism for artistry, lavish scenes and realistic effects in an historical movie.

All the properties in the new US$10 million production are delicately made to create an authentic ambience for the scene 2,500 years ago in China.

However, the director is not good at providing a powerful and convincing ending. The second half of the two-hour film is less compelling and loosely structured compared with its strong and enchanting beginning. There are less tensions, conflict of dramaturgy and impressive scenes. But generally speaking, it is still a work with sincerity and devotion from the filmmaker.

In addition to "Sacrifice," the heated New Year's movie season will also see an array of highly anticipated works from celebrated Chinese directors, such as Jiang Wen's "Let the Bullets Fly" and Feng Xiaogang's "If You Are the One 2."

Genre: Drama/ Motion (in Chinese with English subtitles)

Directed by: Chen Kaige

Starring: Ge You, Fan Bingbing, Wang Xueqi, Huang Xiaoming, Zhao Wenzhuo

Where to watch: Yonghua Cinema; Wanda Cinema; Broadband International Cineplex; Stellar Cinema City


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