ASIAN FILM - Review
09:00 - 16th June 2013, by David West

Sacrifice

When General Tu'an Gu (Wang Xueqi) launches a bloody coup to seize power from the king Ling Gong (Peng Bo), he sets about ruthlessly eliminating his rivals in the powerful Zhao clan. As Tu'an's soldiers go about their brutal business, the king's beautiful sister Zhuang-ji (Fan Bingbing) gives birth to a baby boy. Her doctor, Cheng Ying (Ge You), agrees to smuggle the child out of the Zhao household to save it from being executed, but in the ensuing search for the missing infant, Cheng's own newborn baby is mistaken for the Zhao heir with tragic consequences.

Chen Kaige's Sacrifice uses the classic story device of infants swapping places at birth to explore the theme of the bond between father and son. It is a convoluted tale, and Chen spends the first half of the movie navigating through labyrinthine plot twists as Cheng tries to protect both Zhuang-ji's baby and his own son from Tu'an.

The second half is a more personal drama, as the surviving boy, Cheng Bo, is caught in an emotional tug of war between the quiet, meek doctor and the charismatic warrior-lord Tu'an, who adopts the lad as his godson, unaware of his true identity. As ruthless as he can be in the pursuit of power, the script does not cast Tu'an as a soulless monster. He lost his own son years ago, and felt that he had been cast aside by Ling Gong despite years of loyal service. When the warlord takes Cheng Bo as his godson, Tu'an is looking for someone to replace his dead son. Similarly, Cheng Ying declares that he is only looking after Cheng Bo so that the boy can one day take revenge on Tu'an, but it is all too clear that the doctor adores the youngster so much that he can hardly stand to let him out of his sight.

There are action scenes in the opening and closing acts of the movie - the first when Tu'an launches his bid for power and the second when the teenage Cheng Bo joins the army and experiences his first battle. The coup in particular is a high-paced sequence of severed limbs and spurting blood that would not look out of place in a straight martial arts movie. The second battle is less interesting in terms of its technical execution than for what it reveals about the developing relationship between Cheng Bo and Tu'an.

Wang Xueqi confidently commands the screen as the usurper, while Ge You has a bigger challenge as Cheng Ying. The doctor is a far cry from any conventional movie hero - he is not physically imposing or very handsome, but his plight makes his cause sympathetic. The female characters are limited to supporting roles. Fan Bingbing looks lovely as Zhuang-ji, although it seems that director Chen Kaige simply could not stand to see her good looks even remotely blemished - moments after giving birth, Zhuang-ji is still perfectly made up with not a single hair out of place. Poise. She has it.

Sacrifice is not afraid to be melodramatic, but the tone fits the tragic story, which was adapted from the opera The Orphan Of Zhao. And operas never ever have happy endings. It's a rule.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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