'Chen Kaige thinks the reason The Emperor's Shadow was a flop is that Chen Kaige didn't direct it.' The cruel joke which did the rounds of Beijing's film circles in the summer of 1998 proved all too prescient: Chen's rehash of the attempt on the life of China's first emperor is longer and much heavier than Zhou Xiaowen's film but did no better commercially at home or abroad. (Worse, most experts agree that Zhou's film was sharper, smarter and generally richer.) Chen goes for 'epic' compositions, 'monumental' performances, mannerist framing and imagery and dubious political parallels with more recent times. Ironically the best thing in it may be his own cameo as the prime minister, the man who may or may not be the emperor's real father.