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Sacrifice - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Zhao shi gu er

China 2010

Drama, Wuxia

Chen Kaige

Ge You
Wang Xueqi
Huang Xiaoming
Fan Bingbing
Zhang Fengyi
Zhao Wenzhuo
Bao Guan

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Story: Power-hungry general Tu Angu (Wang Xueqi) wants to wipe out the Zhao family clan and thanks to continuous scheming he almost manages to achieve that. Only the son of princess Zhuang (Fan Bingbing) is still alive. The physician Cheng Ying (Ge You) took him in. A superior of Angu, Han Jue (Huang Xiaoming), agreed to pretend having been deceived. Zhuang disguised herself for her to look as if she was still pregnant and commited suicide. Cheng Ying escaped with the baby and took it to his wife (Hai-Qing). However, the deception is uncovered and all the babies in the city are kidnapped. Unfortunately, it isn't Cheng's own child that is taken but the Zhao-baby. While Cheng manages to get his baby out of town Angu demands that the Zhao-baby is taken to him, otherwise he would execute all babies in town. Cheng sacrifices his own baby and together with Han Jue, who got disfigured by Angu, he vows revenge. He raises the Zhao-baby as if it were his own child and even manages to make Angu the baby's godfather. Cheng Ying wants to tell his adopted son the truth about his parentage as soon as he is old enough to take revenge for him...

Review: A great intricate story sadly can't realize the potential it actually has in the hands of a director, who apparently isn't feeling too well in the wuxia genre. "Sacrifice" is clear proof of that, because the movie remains a wooden and lifeless affair despite many good ideas. Granted, that's not the case at all points in the film, but still often enough that at the end you can't seriously say that Chen Kaige's movie is a well-achieved piece of work. Nevertheless, fans of the director may rest assured: The movie is without a doubt better than "The Promise". Yet it features quite some similar issues. It's odd that Chen apparently is bent on putting style over substance, because the film's substance would in fact qualify as being really good, if the involved style wouldn't ruin it.

Love in the Buff - Film Screenshot 11

Right at the start there are already some big problems making their presence felt. The story is told with an incredibly fast editing, even in those scenes in which one single camera angle would have been enough there are instead several ones that we are outright flooded with. This artificially created pacing can't be captivating, though, instead we are even alienated by this static way of shooting. It takes over half an hour until we even start to get interested in the movie in some way. This is then the effort of the great screenplay by Zhao Ningyu which comes along with a complex premise. Sadly, you can't say that the script is without any mistakes or plot holes all the way through. That is since a few of the decisions that are made may be a little bit too far-fetched for some viewers after all.

Love in the Buff - Film Screenshot 12

Its strength the movie derives from the drama of the characters. Cheng Ying's plan for revenge that is schemed into the distant future poisons his whole life while his relationship to his son constitutes the film's heart. Cheng's son is like his own to him, yet he makes him an instrument of his revenge, which also gives his personality a darker side. The fact that he had to sacrifice his own son, an extremely shocking scene in the movie, wouldn't even have made him a blemished individual, because the circumstances are so intricate that he never could have saved him anyway. But his conscious decision to make Antu his son's godfather, inevitably raises the question if at the day he tells Antu and his son about the true background of the events in the past he wouldn't just harm his arch-enemy, but his son as well.

During the more quiet scenes, when the characters are drawn more precisely, Chen Kaige shows his actual talent since he manages to get the best out of Ge You and Wang Xueqi. The acting is very good and showing the lines between good and evil attributes becoming more and more blurry is well achieved. Oftentimes you get the feeling to watch a good stage play. But the director seemed to feel obliged to feature some action in his movie every now and then as well. The small battles are captured in a way too confusing fashion and in fact are more tedious than anything else. What's also unfortunate is the decision to utilize certain cinematic tricks that are simply cheap, among them slow motion sequences and an at times sentimental and at others bombastic soundtrack. Less certainly would have been more in this case.

Love in the Buff - Film Screenshot 13

Chen Kaige has forgotten where his strength lies. The director of the internationally highly-acclaimed "The Emperor and the Assassin" seemingly wants to please a younger audience while at the same time trying to remain true to himself. His plan doesn't work out, however. Without a doubt "Sacrifice" has a few nice moments, especially the story and the relationships between the characters have to be stressed out in this context, and on a techical level the movie also looks appealing, that is until Chen tries to bring more style into the movie. This isn't him. This unfaithfulness results in a weak start and unfortunately also in a flagging ending since there is too much sentimentality enforced here. The middle part on the other hand shows what an distinguished movie "Sacrifice" could have been.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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