There’s disorder in the court of 6th-century China, as a power-hungry rival (Wang Xueqi) murders the prime minister via mosquito assassin (don’t ask) and vows to kill all his heirs. A newborn grandson is saved, however, when royal gynecologist Cheng (Ge You) exchanges his own offspring for extermination in lieu of the future regent. Adapted from the opera The Orphan of Zhao, Chen Kaige’s historical epic favors drama over action (though he doesn’t skimp on violence when shit does go down), yet everything moves like it’s on wuxia autopilot. The Fifth Generation filmmaker has aced such recipes before (e.g. The Emperor and the Assassin); this time, both the spectacular and the human elements have apparently been offered to the gods.
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