It all starts off quite epic. Back in China's distant mystical past, there's a kingdom in which a battle had been waged, and a young girl scavenging food from dead soldiers. She's offered a tempting proposition by the Goddess Manshen, a floating apparition who seems to like messing with mortals: the girl will have everything she's ever desired, but everyone she loves will be taken away from her - unless time runs backward, snow falls in the spring, and the dead rise from the grave. The girl, not having a lot of options, agrees. This sets the stage for a grand, widescreen, Technicolor love triangle two decades down the line, the sort of thing one would imagine that Kaige could pull off in his sleep. The result is something quite closer to self-parody.
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The plot is simple, allowing the characters the attention they deserve. Dong Zi (Shi Yu) comes to the city from the countryside because of the opportunity to make money. He earns an honest living as a petty "shoulder pole" on the docks and is permitted to crash with Gao Ping (Guo Tao), an older gentleman and self-proclaimed businessman who tries to show him the ropes because they are from the same town. But Gao has a vendetta against a man who cheated him out of money. Though he dresses better and lives a fuller life than Dong, he is none the happier for doing so.
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There's already an Oscars buzz surrounding this movie.