Vengeance and Justice Are Not the Same
Release Date: July 27, 2012
Starring: Ge You, Wang Xue-Qi, Fan
Bing-Bing, Zhang Feng-Yi,
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Rating: Not Rated
Runtime: 122 minutes
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Director: Chen Kaige
Executive Producer: None
Producer: Chen Hong, Qin Hong
Writer: Chen Kaige, Gao Xuan, Ren
Baoru, Zhao Ningyu
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Meyer Gottlieb, President
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The story introduces various characters in the 5th Century B.C. Cheng Ying is a physician helping tend to some pregnant women. One of the women, Princess Zhuang, has a brother who’s the mischievous and seemingly incompetent Duke. The woman’s husband is General Zhao Shuo, whose father is the Chancellor. Other characters include the seemingly loyal General Tu Angu, who’s quickly shown to be plotting a violent usurpation, and General Tu’s loyal henchman Han Jue.
General Tu kills the Duke and manipulates the circumstances to make it appear that his allies, the Zhaos, were the assassins. He then uses that pretense to massacre the entire clan and ensure his unchallenged control of the region.
General Tu sends his henchman, Han, to General Zhao’s house to kill the baby who would soon be born. When he arrives, the last of the Zhaos had been born, but when Princess Zhuang begs him to spare her child’s life then kills herself to make it appear that she died pregnant, Han shows compassion. He lets Dr. Cheng take the child into hiding.
General Tu quickly learns of the child’s escape and slices Han’s face as punishment for his incompetence. He then orders all newborn children in the city taken and held for ransom until the Zhao baby is either found hiding in the city, or its protectors reveal his whereabouts. However, when they arrive at Dr. Cheng’s house, the soldiers mistake baby Zhao for Cheng’s son and take him away. The Chengs play along with the lie, knowing that if they try to say General Tu has the wrong child he will simply kill them both. When Dr. Cheng finally comes forward bringing his own child out in place of the Zhao baby to save the hundred babies being held hostage, Tu violently throws him to the ground, killing him. He also kills Cheng’s wife when she reacts hysterically.
After raising the Zhao baby as his own for a while, Dr. Cheng asks to be entered into the service of General Tu as compensation for saving the city’s children and his wife’s death. He plans to raise the young Zhao boy up in Tu’s court, learning how to fight under him, until one day when he reveals the truth to his adopted son and has him take vengeance on General Tu for his family’s sake.
The child is raised as Cheng Bo, the name Dr. Cheng’s son would have had, and learning the ways of war. Bo’s adoptive father keeps him on a very short leash, but Bo becomes quite attached to his godfather, General Tu. Finally, when Bo is 15, Tu believes he’s ready to fight in the war. However, Tu realizes how much he looks like his actual father when Bo comes out in his armor. At this moment, Dr. Cheng decides he must tell Bo about his heritage, but not even the word of the vengeful Han Jue convinces Bo of the truth.
Bo goes off to battle with his godfather riding near, but when he works himself too deep behind enemy lines, General Tu turns his back on him, whom he now recognizes as his old enemy. Just when it seems Bo must be killed, Tu is overcome by his godson’s cries and rides in to save him. However, Han Jue then takes his vengeance and shoots Tu with a poisoned arrow.
After defeating the enemy, Bo brings General Tu to Dr. Cheng, the only person who can save him from the poison. Cheng initially refuses to save Tu, but Bo persuades him. Tu is nursed back to health with the medicine Cheng provides, and Bo is grateful. Tu, in an effort to be noble, reveals to Bo the sacrifice Cheng made so that he may live. Bo now knows that he truly is the last Zhao, so he challenges General Tu to a sword battle so that he may avenge his family, but Bo learns that his fighting is no match for Tu.
SACRIFICE has some exciting action, but most of it is very slow and drawn out. A typical audience will find the storyline confusing and won't understand the decisions the characters make. The theme of sacrifice is strong, but in the end the desire for vengeance outweighs the sacrifices made. There is some very strong battle violence and a light pagan worldview that requires extreme caution.
Because of its title, SACRIFICE may seem like a movie with strong themes of sacrifice. However, the noble ideas of honor and justice are confused with vengeance. This is consistent with the Eastern, pagan worldview that informs the characters’ decisions. Thus, SACRIFICE may be very unsatisfying for most viewers not familiar with the styles of Asian films. The story is very slow at times as the movie shows the young heir to the throne grow. SACRIFICE has very strong war violence. That, and the movie’s pagan worldview, warrants extreme caution.