To save the only child of the Zhao Family, whose entire clan was massacred at the hands of a nefarious minister, a doctor sacrifices his own son; after the Zhao child grows up, the doctor becomes intent on seeking his vengeance.
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Sacrifice (Orphan of Zhao Family): To save the only child of the Zhao Family, whose whole clan is massacred at the hands of a nefarious minister, a doctor sacrifices his own son, and later becomes intent on seeking vengeance against the minister after the child grows up. For generations, the Zhao family has wielded power, even extending over the king. In a well-planned coup, their mortal enemy TU'AN GU (Wang Xue Qi) slaughters the entire clan, determined to wipe out their influence forever. However, a solitary Zhao baby survives the massacre, and is hidden and taken home by CHENG YING (Ge You), the doctor who delivered him, to live with his WIFE (Hai Qing) and their own newborn baby. Set on revenge, and raising the Zhao child as his own, Cheng Ying bides his time, enrolling himself and the Zhao orphan (whom he calls Cheng Bo) into the service of the Tu'an Gu household. Tu' an Gu grows very fond of Cheng Bo and makes Cheng Bo his godson, unaware that Cheng Ying has been plotting to use...Written by
I am stunned at the paucity of excellent reviews for this art-house gem. It seems most reviewers are looking for an action film. Today, there seems to be a consensus that every Asian film needs action, every action film needs CGI. But it's 20% action, 80% drama. In reality, it ranks better than almost any action film such as anything with Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Stallone, or Statham. (Schwarzenegger and Mortensen may top the list with Terminator 2 and LOTR). It's just not a true action film but is more epic like Troy, The Last Samurai (a weaker film) or Dances with Wolves. Sacrifice falls into a class of recent Asian masterpieces, just after highly acclaimed films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Twilight Samurai, 3-Iron, Spirited Away or Internal Affairs.
It is a bit confusing to navigate the film especially at the start with the flashbacks, but director Kaige Chen succeeds in creating a vision of questionable rule as the Zhao king comes across as somewhat irritating and incompetent. That sets the scene for a military coupe as General Tu Angu (Tu'An) -- played brilliantly by Xueqi Wang. A doctor named Cheng Ying (You Ge) and his wife get caught up in the confusing, political intrigue. But then, brilliant art-house films such 8 1/2 or Clockwork Orange can be more confusing. Add a cultural element, and people can get lost. But the dark human themes simplify this film.
Sometimes the simplest theme can be the most complex yet most human. For example, the highly acclaimed Ikiru (1952) or Twelve Angry Men or even The Shawshank Redemption use simple themes such as creating a legacy, changing perceptions or bias and friendship and trust. I suspect the more old world theme of revenge does not play well with people. It's not endearing like Shawshank Redemption, although it is objectively a better made film. Why? The costumes, set and cinematography of Sacrifice are almost better than any film in the past twenty years. I'm not certain why anyone fails to point out these aspects. Costumes are quite accurate but not glittery, peasants and commoners wear drab but clean clothes. The set is accurate, not overdone. The cinematography is brilliant. The minor use of animation/CGI was tastefully done as the aging doctor imagines what revenge is possible.
Revenge and loyalty are overriding themes as this film develops strongly Asian taste which perhaps some people cannot stomach. But this is not unlike living in a foreign country. The point is, to experience something radically different is powerful. Sometimes we are afraid. Someone pointed out it is a dark film, which is true, but so was The Shining or Pixote (perhaps the best Brazilian film ever). But all these films develops the characters extremely well. We get to understand Cheng Ying and Tu Angu very well and few films ever develop their characters as well, if not endearing like Forrest Gump. Emotionally, we embrace acting on a lesser scale if we empathize with the characters. In most epics, the viewer can rarely get close to the central male figures since the cool nobility of the character. For example, although Clark Gable was noble in Gone With The Wind, his character was not as endearing as Vivien's Scarlett. Or Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai) always played a strong, distant character. Tu Angu plays that distant character opposed to the vulnerable Cheng Ying (You Ge). That is what makes Twilight Samurai a brilliant film despite it not being the typical samurai film. In contrast, that film is about love of family. Yet, that theme is more engaging than revenge, loyalty and moral ambiguity as we see in Sacrifice. Yet sometimes, it is hard for the audience to interpret.
The whole concept of "Sacrifice" is old world. We hear of parents sacrificing for the young ones. But in a modern western culture, it is forgotten. Our vulnerable doctor is not just loyal to the Zhao clan, he is driven by personal loss and his loyalty is as weak as his physical and mental strength. He and his wife would have gladly wanted their son to live. But fate took a turn and they were given an unwanted situation. Family and honor are important old world values. Oaths and fidelity are feudal and keep us prisoners. Life is full of unwanted situations but releasing ourselves is how we move forward. The former general Han Jue (Xiaoming Huang) understands a bit of that as he questions Cheng Ying's idealized concept of revenge. Parenting cannot overcome free will. Cheng Ying hopes the greatest twist will be the most exacting revenge but Han Jue realizes that no plan, no matter how carefully constructed, succeeds the way we want.
The viewer knows we cannot control destiny or people, but Cheng Ying's feelings are too blind, too controlling to realize that. He sees a dark future for his enemy and the orphan of Zhao is the instrument. It is a bit autobiographical perhaps, as one reviewer suggests about father/son relationships. Hollywood films have happy endings, international films have darker endings. Most Chinese epics end in melodramatic death. It seems the film moves slowly but so are classics such as High Noon or Once Upon a Time in the West. In this case, a boy has to grow up and character development is important to this film. Therefore the pace is deliberate with the exception of the fighting scenes.
If one understands the merits of this gem, then the human experience in film begins to open up. Films are entertainment, but also a probe into deeper meaning and into our spirituality. In the end, our main characters come to realization and resolution. This film despite its apparently simple themes, is perhaps a bit too intellectual for some. It seems almost a Shakespearian or an ancient Greek tragedy in its design and appeal.
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