Original Title: Zhao Shi Gu Er
(aka) Zhao's Orphan
Directed by Chen Kaige Produced by Chen Hong, Gu Guo Qing, Ren Zhong Lun Action by Dee Dee Ku
Starring: Vincent Zhao Wen Zhao, Ge You, Wang Xue Qi, Huang Xiao Ming, Fan Bing Bing, Zhang Feng Yi, Ethan Li, Peng Bo, Wang Jin Song, Christina Hai
Reviewing: High Fliers UK DVD Release
Genres: Drama / Historical / Action
Rating - 4 / 5
DVD Synopsis: For genreations, the Zhao family has wielded power, even extending over the king. In a well-planned coup, their mortal enemy TU'AN GU (Wang Xueqi) 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 GENG YING (Ge You), the doctor who delivered him, to live with his wife (Hai Qing) and their newborn baby. Set on revenge, and raising the Zhao child as his own, Cheng Ying bides his time, enrolling himself and the Zhao orphan (who he calls Cheng Bo) into the service of the Tu'an Gu household.
Views: Set during the period of the Warring States, Sacrifice tells the tragic story of the Zhao family who get framed for the murder of Lord Ling. It's all part of an elaborate plan by General Tu'an Gu who wants rid of the famed Zhao clan who, he believes, have been given too much power in the kingdom. After poisoning the Lord, the General calls for everyone in the Zhao family to be killed and sends his men to start the massacre. Meanwhile, Doctor Cheng Ying hears of the coup and makes it his business to save the only surviving member of the Zhao family. With the mother dying soon after his birth, the doctor offers to hide the baby at his home, along with his wife and their own new born son. But it doesn't take long for the doctor to soon find General Gu's men banging on the door of every house in the town – taking away any babies they find. Racing home to warn his wife, Cheng finds that the Zhao boy has already been removed. With his own son now being the only baby in town that hasn't been arrested by General Tu'an Gu, the doctor soon learns that their baby has now become the 'one' they are looking for and entrusts the lives of his family to that of Gong Sun Chujiu, a righteous man who has stayed loyal to the Zhao clan. As the General closes in, he finds Cheng's wife and their son hiding in Gong's basement. Thinking that it is indeed the Zhao baby, General Tu'an Gu slays both the child and mother – returning the actual Zhao baby to Doctor Cheng in believing that it is his own son. Heart broken at the loss of his wife and child, Cheng Ying brings the young Zhao up as his own, counting the minutes until he can deliver vengeance for the murder of his family and the massacre of the Zhao clan. After many years pass, Cheng enrols both himself and the teenage Zhao into the Tu'an Gu home and soon names General Tu'an as the godfather to his son. Cementing a relationship between them both, Cheng puts his plans in action that will finally help him seek revenge for both of their losses!
This 2010 production from powerhouse director Chen Kaige, often seems to be forgotten about when people talk about his filmography. Having also written its story, the highly praised filmmaker delivers a powerful and emotional tale that offers all the ingredients of most historical Chinese epics including, revenge, loyalty, honour, respect, family, and (obviously) sacrifice. While not as action-packed as The Warlords, Red Cliff, or God Of War (for example), the film still manages to keep a grip on its viewers with its strong story and amazing performances. What action is there though, offers some excitement when on-screen and is handled by popular actor/action director Dee Dee Ku (Huen Chiu). Starting life in the industry in the mid 80s with small roles in classics like My Lucky Stars, Royal Warriors, A Better Tomorrow 2, Tiger On The Beat, Bloody Brotherhood, and more – as well as working as an assistant fight director on a few films including Born To Defence, from Jet Li. From there, he was taken under the wing of the one-and-only Yuen Woo Ping and went on to work on titles such as Once Upon A Time In China 1 & 2, Last Hero In China, Iron Monkey, Tai Chi Master, Fist Of Legend, and so much more – continuing into the decades with (but not only) The Four Trilogy, The Mermaid, 14 Blades, Shadow, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Forbidden Kingdom, and the aforementioned epic, The Warlords. While there is some degree of choreographed action throughout Sacrifice, the majority of the fighting is worked around swordplay on horseback or delivered in a hack-and-slash style. Even the great Vincent Zhao (who appears as warrior Zhao Shuo) doesn't get to show off too much kung-fu before his dramatic death within the first 30 minutes. It would be the final duel between the teenage Zhao and his godfather when he finds out the truth, that probably offers the more intricate choreography in the film. It may be short, but it does offer some neat moves before coming to an end with a tragic stand-off and beautifully emotional ending.
All in all, this is a story about a father's love and the emotion involved in losing your family while trying to raise another. Popular actor Ge You, was definitely the right man for the job in portraying the role of Doctor Cheng Ying, offering a powerful performance from beginning to end and pretty much makes the film his. Starting his acting career in 1985 with Shengxia & Her Fiancé, Ge You first worked with Chen Kaige on the wonderful and highly loved, Farewell My Concubine. The turn-of-the-century would see him start working with Feng Xiao Gang – another of my favourite Chinese directors – where he would offer some of the most memorable performances of his career with Big Shots Funeral, A World Without Thieves, The Banquet, and Personal Tailor, to name but a few. Equally, the fantastic Wang Xue Qi turns in a superb performance as the hardened General, Tu'an Gu. Although he had started acting in the early 80s, I actually only first saw Wang in the brilliant 2003 film, Warriors Of Heaven And Earth, followed soon after by The Founding Of A Republic, Beginning Of The Great Revival, Bodyguards & Assassins, and as Cao Feng in the awesome Reign Of Assassins. The beautiful Fan Bing Bing plays the role of Zhao's wife who, soon after giving birth to their son gets killed off, and the young Zhao Wen Hao (of who I'm not too sure is connected to Vincent Zhao or not, or if it's just a coincidence that they share the same family name), does a great job in his first role as the teenager who takes an emotional kick to the nuts, after he learns the truth about his past. Proving himself as an actor that can provide emotion, and someone that can adapt to fight in his role, Wen Hao went on to star in the epic White Vengeance the following year and took a long gap before returning with the television show, And The Winner Is Love, as well as starring in Young Ip Man: Crisis Time.
Sacrifice is beautifully detailed in every way, through costumes, weapons, and set design, all backed up by some gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Yang Shu, who won an award for his work as DOP on the 2005 film, Peacock. Kicking off behind the camera in the late 80s, Yang has worked steadily over the decades in China shooting on films such as Shanghai 1976, Caught In The Web, Cock & Bull, and Genghis Khan...
Overall: Perhaps one of Chen Kaige's more underrated films, Sacrifice makes for a great watch with its emotional story and great performances!
DVD Extras: Trailer