Sacrifice | Movie review
From Chen Kaige comes a solid, slightly choppy revenge epic.
A solid, slightly choppy epic of revenge among swordsmen, this classically mounted tragedy from Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) might have had a greater impact at a longer length—the better to feel the weight of the passing years its characters experience. A general (Wang Xueqi) gives his army license to wipe out the ruling Zhao clan by framing it for a noble’s murder, then hastily consolidates power. The last of the Zhaos, whose mother gives birth during the massacre before sacrificing herself, is entrusted to local doctor Cheng Ying (Ge You, of To Live). The physician vows to raise the boy as his own. While Cheng Ying could exact revenge at any time, he plots a slower course, entrusting the boy as a godson to the warlord responsible for killing the child’s forebears. The young Zhao thus grows up fond of both men.
How much the godfather knows—and where the boy’s loyalties lie—are matters of significant suspense. If the story’s arc is predictable, the movie compensates with old-fashioned craft; apart from some manipulative slo-mo, Chen gives the proceedings an emotional pull. Archetypal rather than deep, Sacrifice nevertheless satisfies on its own terms.