The Emperor's Shadow

  • 1996
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama, Historical

For all its epic trappings -- and the distinction of being the most expensive movie ever produced in China -- director Zhou Xiaowen's lavish feature is a surprisingly intimate tale of Ying Zheng, China's first emperor. In the third century B.C., Ying (Jiang Wen), king of the Qin province, sets out to unify China by conquering its other six kingdoms. When...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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For all its epic trappings -- and the distinction of being the most expensive movie ever produced in China -- director Zhou Xiaowen's lavish feature is a surprisingly intimate tale of Ying Zheng, China's first emperor. In the third century B.C., Ying (Jiang

Wen), king of the Qin province, sets out to unify China by conquering its other six kingdoms. When his armies enter the kingdom of Yan, Ying orders his soldiers to spare the musician Gao Jianli (Ge You) and return him safely to Qin. Not only does the lonely Ying feels a sentimental attachment to

Jianli -- they were both nursed by Jianli's mother, and were once childhood friends -- but the visionary emperor-to-be also foresees a role for Jianli as his court composer: Ying realizes that the most effective way of uniting the hearts and minds of his diverse subjects is with a stirring

imperial anthem, and he believes Jianli is the only one capable of writing it. But Jiang despises Ying's brutal megalomania, and makes the mistake of falling in love with Princess Yueyang (Xu Qing), Ying's paralyzed daughter, who has already been promised to the son of a general. Jiang and the

princess have an affair anyway, and Ying remains stubbornly devoted to the musician even as his affection begins to threaten the unity of his nascent empire. Shot in grand style with a stunning array of costumes and an exquisite set design that helps bring a remote time and place to life, the film

works best when it offers the fascinating particulars of ancient Chinese culture, such as the preparation of the princess's toilet, or the blinding of a prisoner with steaming horse urine. It comes as a disappointment, then, that Zhou focuses more on such stodgy, time-worn themes as art vs.

politics and loyalty to state vs. the bonds of friendship, while historical moment slips away. (In Mandarin, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 1996
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: For all its epic trappings -- and the distinction of being the most expensive movie ever produced in China -- director Zhou Xiaowen's lavish feature is a surprisingly intimate tale of Ying Zheng, China's first emperor. In the third century B.C., Ying (Jian… (more)

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