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The Emperor's Shadow  

Director: Xiaowen Zhou Cast: You Ge (Gao Jianli), Wen Jiang (Ying Zheng), Qing Xu (Ying Yueyang) Country: China

A movie with as much melodramatic flair as the amount of money thrown behind its making, 'The Emperor's Shadow' is short on subtlety, but manages to awe with a world as alien and exotic as any produced for a sc-fi movie. A fictionalised account of the tempestuous relationship between the First Emperor of China and his court musician, it could also be seen as a comment on censorship and artistic freedom, something which reputedly hampered the film's release on its native soil.

Ying Zheng is an absolute monarch, demanding and receiving total obedience from all before him, except two people: his precocious daughter, Yueyang, and his court musician, Gao Jianli. Though Ying Zheng indulges his daughter, it seems that he has more of a familial relationship with Gao Jianli, the only other person who dares to challenge him, though often at the risk of his own life and limb. Gao opposes every attempt by Ying Zheng to control him artistically, something that baffles a man whose whim is law. It is almost like a relationship between a strict parent and a strong-willed child, though the punishment meted out here is more severe - Gao is blinded for one digression, for instance. Yueyang also defies her father, and her betrothed husband, but in her case, it is for love for Gao. However, it leads to a much more fatal result.

Everything in this movie seems imbued with a sense of otherworld-ness. This is a China I've not seen before, an archaic China tinged with strange, wild passions, unlike the dignified and demure standard of behaviour more acceptable in the culture today. Wen Jiang plays his Emperor with a fascinating mix of inhumanity and vulnerability, and only Yueyang and Gao seems allowed to express anything resembling a functioning human being (and then again, only just). This is a film rumbles with all the gusto of a good melodrama, set against a sumptuous canvas of storytelling.

Eden Law

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