The Emperor's Shadow (Qin Song) (1996)




Director: Zhou Xiaowen

Starring:  Jiang Wen (King Zheng), Ge You (musician Gao Jianli), Qing Xu (Ying Yueyang).

In Mandarin with English subtitles.


Story deals with similar events dealt with in the movie The Emperor and the Assassin.  The story is about the formation of China's first ruling dynasty based on King Zheng's rise to Emperor.


Good movie.  The story tells of two childhood friends, Gao Jianli of the Yan Kingdom. who loves to play and compose music, and Ying Zheng, a prince of the Qin Kingdom.  The prince is in Yan Kingdom as a hostage.  The two are separated when the prince is sent back to Qin Kingdom. 

Twenty-six years later, we see the now King of Qin at the time that he has conquered three kingdoms with three kingdoms (Yan, Chu and Qui) yet to be conquer conquered.  The King has had great military success, but he also wants to win the loyalty of his new subjects.  And he figures the best ways to do this is for his old childhood friend Jianli to compose a great, stirring national anthem for a united China.   

When the King begins the destruction of the kingdom of Yan, he tells his men to bring Gao Jianli to him so the musician can compose the anthem.  But it is going to prove very difficult for Jianli to write the anthem, for he says that the King Zheng's cruelty  makes heaven weep.  No matter how hard King Zheng tries to get his depressed friend, who has no will to live, to cooperate, it proves to be of no avail. 

Unbeknownst to King Zheng, one of his many daughters, Princess Yueyang, who he loves deeply, will prove to be his secret weapon.  She takes an interest in Jianli and asks her father to give him to her as a servant if she can pull the musician out of his depression so that he can have the will to write the anthem.  Jianli is on a hunger strike to the probable death, but as the Princess tries harder and harder to cheer him up, he starts to fall in love with her.  When he shows a desire to touch her, the Princess uses this to bring Jianli off his hunger strike and out of his depression. 

Yueyang starts to fall in love with Jianli and now tells her father that she will not marry the military officer Wang Ben, son of the head of the King's army.  Her father explains that she is his bargaining chip with the army and must marry the man he has chosen for her.  His reluctant daughter is not his only problem.  Jianli is still refusing to write the national anthem.  And Yueyang and Jianli have sex together, which enrages the King and the prospective groom Wang Ben.   The King orders Jianli, the King's eternal shadow, to stay away from Yueyang and soon Wang Ben imprisons Jianli.  

Will the future Emperor of a united China sacrifice his daughter's and his friend's happiness on the altar of his own success?   And will the King ever get his national anthem? 

I really enjoyed the love story between Princess Yueyang and the musician Jianli.  I only wish that there was a little more history in the movie, but am still happy with the film.  (Jiang Wen as the brutal King Zheng was terrific.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


See The Emperor and the Assassin (1999)




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