Published on Nov 10, 2010
The Emperor's Shadow (simplified Chinese: 秦颂; traditional Chinese: 秦頌; pinyin: qín sòng; literally "Ode (or Anthem) of Qin") is a 1996 historical film made in the People's Republic of China by the Xi'an Film Studio. It was directed by Zhou Xiaowen, with script written by Lu Wei. The film was the most expensive made in China at the time of its release.
Set in third century BC China, the story of Emperor's Shadow revolves around the relationship between Ying Zheng (Jiang Wen), King of Qin, and later First Emperor; and the musician Gao Jianli (Ge You). Gao's mother was the king's wet nurse when the young Ying Zheng was a hostage in the State of Zhao, but they were separated after the former returns to his state of Qin to become king.
After reaching adulthood, King Zheng embarks on a series of wars to fulfill his plan of unifying China. He kidnaps Gao Jianli from the state of Yan to compose a powerful hymn for his new state. The two conflict over the new composition, the construction of grand public works, Ying Zheng's ruthless mass killing policies, and King Zheng's daughter, Princess Yueyang (Xu Qing).
Music and themes
The political use of music and of the arts in general is one of the major themes in the film. In one of the climaxes of the movie, the king states his belief that through music he can "control the minds and hearts of the people", echoing Mao Zedong's Yan'an talks of 1942. Music is perceived by the monarch as being as important as military power. Whereas his armies can conquer his rivals, he needs the arts to exert spiritual and ideological control. At the premiere of the film on 7 June 1996 in Beijing, director Zhou Xiaowen noted: "Chinese rulers have always wanted to control our spirit. But they cannot succeed in doing so."
After The Emperor's Shadow was released in five major Chinese cities, it was banned by state authorities without any clear reason being given. Eight months later permission was given for re-release.
The film has been criticized in China for its many historical inaccuracies. Chief among these is the distortion of the character of Gao Jianli. According to Sima Qian's Shi Ji, Gao was a friend of the assassin Jing Ke, who fails in an attempt upon King Zheng's life. Other minor errors, mostly of academic interest, also contribute to the film's lack of historical authenticity. The director Zhou Xiaowen defended his film by saying that it was an exploration of ideas and values for the present day and was not intended as a strictly historical depiction of the First Emperor. In a 1999 interview, he said "I don't like history; I just like the buildings, the palaces, the dress."
The film influenced the creation of Tan Dun's 2006 opera The First Emperor.
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