Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sacrifice (orig. Zhao shi gu er) [2010]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Sacrifice (orig. Zhao shi gu er), directed by Kaige Chen, screenplay by Ningyu Zhao is a Chinese historical drama (subtitled) filmed out of Shanghai based on a Chinese opera set in the 6th century BC in China.

Cheng Ying (played by You Ge) a doctor is attending the pregnant daughter of the King/head of the powerful Zhao family.  While he has been a doctor for many years, Cheng is especially happy these days because after many years he and his wife were finally able to have a child of their own as well.

Well, just as the daughter of the king was going to have her child, an angry general Tu'An Gu (played by Xequi Wang) storms the King's palace with his men and proceeds to kill everyone of the King's family except for the daughter, who being in labor was in another building.  She gives birth to her child.  But finding out what had just happened to her family, she gives the child, a son, to the doctor asking him to save him by raising him as his own (as a commoner, not knowing his actual heritage).  The doctor agrees, taking the child to his home.

Tu'An Gu in the meantime finds out that the king's daughter had given birth and not finding the infant, orders his men to close all the gates of the citadel, search all the homes and carry to him every infant in the citadel figuring that all the parents of the children abducted in this way could come to him, one by one, to plead for their children's lives, leaving the one who belonged to the daughter of the king alone to die.

But it does not turn out that way.  The doctor's wife, now suddenly with two infants decides to hide her own while handing over the daughter of the king's child to Tu'An Gu's men.  BUT the doctor feeling obligation to his former patient, goes back to Tu'An Gu to claim the child as his own.  Now Tu'An Gu is confused.  He knows the doctor attended the daughter of the king.  He also knows that the doctor recently had a child himself.  And the doctor had come to him somewhat suspiciously late to ask for the child back.  Who's child is it?  And shouldn't there be two children there that the doctor's supposedly taking care of now?

If this seems convoluted, it is.  And yes, even Tu'An Gu is confused.  He goes back with his men to the doctor's house to find the other child.  But even when he finds the second child (one can't easily keep a newborn quiet for an extended period of time), what then?  Which child is whose?  Much ensues ...

History and martial arts buffs will like this film as the costuming and as well as the combat scenes are certainly authentic.  My only complaint would be that the films feels like one that would have been produced during the Ben Hur [1959] era of film making.  As such, I would suspect that many Americans may find the sets, cinematography and even the dialogue (subtitled though it may be) somewhat "dated."  Flashier Chinese "period pieces," like Snow Flower and the Secret Fan [2011] and Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame [2011] still seem to be coming out of Hong Kong rather than Shanghai.

On the other hand, one also has to realize that the screenwriter Ningyu Zhao had actually lost a decade of his life during China's Cultural Revolution which extended from 1966 to 1976. Ningyu Zhao had been a rising star in Communist China's film establishment prior to the Cultural Revolution and only after it was over, was he able to begin rebuilding his career.  So it should not necessarily be surprising that his style would have been influenced by the great Hollywood epics made in the late 1950s through mid-1960s in the West The Ten Commandments [1956], Ben Hur [1959] or Cleopatra [1963] (and somewhat "stuck" in that time). 

However, in any case, Sacrifice (orig. Zhao shi gu er) makes for a good film for those who'd be interested in Chinese history and culture.  And perhaps the comparison between the films being produced in Hong Kong vs Shanghai will serve to improve the films coming out of both places.

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