With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Saturday, March 22, 2008

ACF 093: Who Killed Empress Wan in "Legend of the Black Scorpion"?

SPOILER ALERT !!!
This article reveals some plot points in the film
Legend of the Black Scorpion.


Several people have been referred to my review in ACF 079 when they ran searches that asked, in essence, "Who killed Empress Wan in Legend of the Black Scorpion?" I didn't discuss the matter in my review, but since there seems to be at least a fair amount of interest in the question, here goes.

The short, and correct, answer is that the film does not reveal who kills Empress Wan (Zhang Ziyi) at the end of the film. Neither Feng Xiaogang, the director, nor the cast have said. In his interview on Disc 2 of the Dragon Dynasty DVD release, actor Daniel Wu (Prince Wu Luan) teasingly says that he knows but won't tell.

My thought, when I first saw the film at the 2007 New York Asian Film Festival, was that it was the ghost of the dead Emperor, Prince Wu's father, who killed her. I mean, if his armor can bleed, why couldn't he strike her down after all the misfortune that she'd caused, even if she didn't do it deliberately?

One of the members of Subway Cinema, the organization that sponsored the festival, told me that he thought it was Minister Yin, who had been sent into exile by the Empress. The logic here was that he was the only significant character that was still alive. Turns out this was close to the mark.

Bey Logan, in his terrific commentary accompanying the movie on Disc 1, discusses what he knows, and sheds considerable light on the vexing question. According to him, the script originally called for the one maid who is seen in several shots throughout the film (she's in the background in the screen shot above) to kill the Empress. Furthermore the murder was done at the bidding of Minister Yin, who certainly had motives.

I believe Logan also said that scenes that would have given the maid greater presence, and perhaps some that actually showed the order being given and the deed being done, either were not shot or were deleted when the director decided to make the ending ambiguous.

So there's the best answer available that I know of. As Logan delightfully puts it: "It was the maid what done it."

49 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:59 PM

    Thanks, I just finished the movie and thought it was Yin...thanks for the help!

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  2. well maybe yin did it he the sword was last seen in the neck of his son but did any one noticed that the emperor did not bleed at all after he took the poison so he is the one that called for the banquet and he is the on that during the whole movie seems to be ahead of all the intreegs so i say he pretended to be dead, and had the final laugh.

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  3. Anonymous12:20 AM

    I thought it was the maid too. For some reason I thought she might have been seeing Minister Yin's son, whom the empress killed. And now she sought her revenge.. Kinda fits with the whole revenge theme...

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  4. It was the Emperor, he faked his own death. (I also think he knew the cup was tainted and purposefully offered it to Qing. But that's a little less obvious.)

    When Qing died from drinking the same poison, she died while choking on her own blood.

    When the Emperor drinks, he gracefully walks over to Wan's lap and goes to sleep.

    They also show the Chamberlain walk away with the tainted cup after Qing drinks. The Emperor drinks from Wan's original cup on the table, with no poison.

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  5. Anonymous6:19 AM

    Its even more confusing now....maybe the late Emperor, as we never really hear the new Emperor admit he killed his brother, so maybe he planned the whole saga to eliminate all of his "competition"!

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  6. Anonymous6:54 PM

    I have searched the internet looking for the answer to this question and I still can't nail it completely! Rule out the dead, and we have Minister Yin, "the silent maid", the Chamberlain, and (ok, I'll bite) the ghost of the first dead emperor (if we're sticking with a Hamlet-type ideal). If this were a multiple choice answer, using the process of elimination, I'd rule out Minister Yin and the Chamberlain on a "just because" basis. This leaves the silent maid and the ghost. I'd have to eeny meeny miney mo on this one! I go for the maid. Although, the idea of the emperor faking his death is a good one, her face didn't appear shocked at the end, as she would have been had it been the emperor. She facial expression was more of a "You?! YOU killed me?" I'm sticking with the maid!

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    1. Anonymous1:55 PM

      I agree. Her (Wan) facial expression when she saw who threw the knife looked rather angry and can not believe someone so "unimportant" or "low" did this. Her expression screams "how dare you!"

      I assume that maid was originally served the Yin's family for a long time before serving Wan. Maybe she was grateful because Qing and her family was kind to her?

      Delete
  7. OK I have to differ. It was Prince Wu Luan either as a ghost or as an accomplished actor who had cleverly staged his own death. Though the whole hand turning black thing was an admittedly masterful performance. The sword was clearly used in the way the Prince had used it previously. Also why would Minister Yin's son have had a poisoned dagger? Supposing he did and we want to stretch the rules to allow the ghost theory then Wu Luan makes the most sense again. However, I do like the symbolism of Minister Yin being dragged to exile on the statue which he earlier receives as a backhanded gift. Remember why the snow leopard was at once celebrated as clever and denounced as a cowardly opportunist?

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  8. Anonymous8:10 PM

    after watching it, I thought it was the maid

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  9. Anonymous11:06 AM

    I have to say that my initial thought was, also, Prince Wu Luan. Like one of the above comments said (and this is what I thought right after watching it), the sword is used in much the same that Prince Wu used his sword at the banquet.

    If Prince Wu's father can come back and exact retribution as a ghost, I see no reason why Prince Wu's couldn't; and he was more directly affected by the Empress's actions that the late Emporer was (seeing as how the empress didn't do anyting to him).

    Whether or not Prince Wu canme back as a ghost or a man who faked his own death, it would make the most sense.

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    1. Anonymous9:01 PM

      Why would he fake his own death? I had a feeling he would have committed suicide after killing the emperor anyways to die with Qing. So they won't be alone. And he wouldn't kill the empress because he saved her so why would he kill her? Make no sense

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  10. Totally perplexed over here! If the Prince wanted her dead, why would he have saved her from the blade in the first place? Who was she talking to before she was killed and why did she seem to recognize the killer with the look of betrayal or disbelief? It had to be either a maid (but why?) or what if the student learned so well from her master actor? Perhaps the daughter didn't drink the wine after all and it was her? Hmmmm. . . perhaps we'll never know!

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  11. Anonymous10:08 PM

    In my opinion I think we can rule out Wu Luan because the dagger was clearly poisoned by Minister Yin and his son with the intent to kill the empress after she took over the throne but we know that didn't happen because Qing drinks the poisoned that was intended for the Emperor. The only person I honestly think it could be is the Emperor. But I believe it more likely to be the Emperor because there was no sign of actual death like the others. Another reason I believe it to be the Emperor because when Wu Luan did the performance that I believe was suppose to foreshadow the death of the emperor he never did get the real poison. So the emperor in the end never drank the poison. And those who think that the sword was used in the same manner at the end of the movie and the killing of the empress, maybe mistaken because there was no string attached when the sword was dropped in to the pot, which it should have if it were used like it was by Wu Luan in the end.

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  12. Anonymous9:04 PM

    i really think it's the emperor who killed the empress. i don't think a person as greedy and ruthless as the emperor would just drink a poisoned wine and die. it is possible that a new wine was poured in the glass. he faked his death so that he will not be blame for what happened to the late emperor.

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  13. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Yes, I also think it was the Emperor. He knew everything. He knew about Minister Yin. He knew about the plan. He knew about the poisoned wine. He had the antidote before he drank the poisoned wine. he had Lord Chamberlaine prematurely pronounce him dead. He is too evil and ambitious to have made a "million calculations" then just handed everything to the Prince.

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  14. Although an argument could be made that the Empress was killed by an unknown assassin - as in unknown to her - her facial expression at the end clearly belies this. She had a look of recognition and surprise on her face.
    For me, there are two possible explanations, although I think the second is very tenuous. In the first (second a lot further below), I think it must have been the emperor, who faked his death as previously mentioned. The most compelling argument for this is that we actually see him drink from the cup - the movie shows this quite clearly and explicitly. And there is only water in the cup! Ancillary to this is a lot of "circumstantial" evidence. For instance, the emperor clearly rejects Confucianism and any form of mysticism repeatedly throughout the film. So it is unlikely he would now change his mind and die because he believes the "heavens" want this. The prince would hardly have done it, as he had previously saved the empress' life. Notions of the first emperor's ghost, supported by arguments that if his mask can bleed then his ghost can kill seem to miss the point. The bleeding mask is meant symbolically. Remember too that we also see people flying through the air in the film - something that humans are not yet capable of (and not likely to be!).
    If the "maid" did it then we as an audience have been rather ill-prepared for this, and I can't believe the writer/director were that sloppy quite frankly. Minister Yin is in exile, so it can't have been him
    My second "hypothesis" is that she ordered her own death. She is killed by the prince's sword/dagger, and she would be the most likely person to have this after the carnage at the end of the film. Her look of surprise might be more to do with the timing than anything else. But I don't hold this explanation for very likely, although likelier than any other character except the emperor... well, that's my beef :-)
    Great film. A feast for the eyes, and Tan Dun's remarkable music and the cream of martial arts actors.

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  15. I JUST FIGURED IT OUT..this is indeed just my opinion and i'm not certain if its true but I think it was Wuluan who killed Wan..In the end empress Wan was talking directly to Wuluan saying "you left and nobody used my name anymore" i have feeling it was his spirit just like how Wuluan's father cried blood on the armor during the start of the movie..this is a possible explanation

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    1. Anonymous8:50 PM

      Not him. He can't possibly killed her if he saved her. It doesn't make sense

      Delete
  16. Also the Emperor wanted her to be happy so he would have allowed her to live and be happy with the Prince, so at this point he realises she really loved the prince he fakes his own death - Now the reason he comes back to kill her, is listen to how the empress describes the red colour of desire - she turns into a megalomaniac - this transformation is the proof that she loved no one - hence the Emperor kils her

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    1. Anonymous8:53 PM

      Ummm no. Why would he kill her for such a stupid reason? He would probably faked his own death not because he realized what he did wrong but because he was just acting. To let them kill each other first without him involved and then come back to kill the empress. Someone as greedy as him does not feel remorse that easily

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  17. The emperor was simply betrayed he repeatedly said he would give up the kingdom for her

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    1. His actions contradict his words. He objects the empress's proposal when she said to leave everything behind and live normally together. So he wouldn't leave the kingdom for her. Also he made her choose whether to be under his position as his wife or in a higher position than him. So it shows that power is more important to him than her.

      Delete
  18. Anonymous9:01 AM

    I agree with Demetrius. I think it was somewhat symbolic and the focus wasn't meant to be about who did it.

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  19. it was the poison-maker (er, pharmacist)

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  20. aikidragon1:08 AM

    I think the clues lie in the human heart is more deadly then the poison and the song that was used in the final scene. I like the theory about the original emperor faking his own death and observing from the shadows the actions that follow.. his brother covet after his wife his wife seeks power and desire without love and is shown to be quite ruthless in her pursuit. His son the good prince never wanted to be involved in politics. All in all the movie shows each characters weakness to there strong controlling emotion and object of love desire that bring them to there downfall. The inner circle of the maidens were in good position to see each persons true character and selfishness for seeking power thus they are the ones who are responsible for the good of the future of the nation to see that unjust unfit to rule Wu was not the best choice for the Good of the People. Or perhaps the writers had a great plot going and then couldn't decide for the best ending and went with the old the butler did it finale.

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    1. Anonymous9:03 PM

      Why would the original emperor fake his death? For what purpose? He could have just exposed his brother and had him executed instead of all this drama occurring and a bunch of innocent people including his own son dying. So no. Could have been his ghost though

      Delete
  21. Anonymous5:21 PM

    i've read every comment and my opinion, as unlikely it may sound, is that Qing somehow survived and killed Wan. If u listen to the song in the end and picture Qing singing this when she has killed Wan it does seem likely. The song's lyrics also mirror Qing's feelings. I don't know why but I firmly believe that it was Qing and as i explained, i base it on the song, that sounds like Qing singing, and the lyrics also mirror her feelings.

    Either that or the late emperor's ghost ^_^

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  22. Anonymous5:21 AM

    yes the ghost of the late emperor could be, but there are few other choices which falls down that the killer was in fact Qing, in which we can see that after she drank the poison and dance a while, there we can see her choking out some blood, where I can conclude that she didn't die, she was saved by her own actions that lead him to choked out some blood and also the poison, then there we can see the last part where the empress facial expression towards the one whot throw the dagger which I think is Qing.

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    1. Anonymous8:58 PM

      More like the ghost of the first one not the second emperor. The second one could have faked it. Also Qing, why would she kill the empress? She gets nothing out of that and she was an innocent person who has no hatred in her. She was portrayed that way. Although your theory does make sense a little

      Delete
  23. Anonymous3:25 AM

    i heard empress wan to speak like this ""when i married your father...uncle may be she was talking to wu luan who may have not died ....i think he killed her...

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    1. Anonymous9:05 PM

      She was talking to him but not really him. She said you're not here anymore to call me that. She's just talking to herself but to Wu Luan in a way. He was dead for sure though because of the poison

      Delete
  24. i think that it was the maid, honestly in a court as corrupt as this, she probably loved someone who died in the final scenes. She was scene repeatedly throughout the film, and the creators have already admitted originally it was supposed to be her. I think that the scenes that were cut may have given some light to her being a silent witness/confidant. Everyone ignored her as a servant but trusted her, the same way they did each other. But that's just my opinion. and it's nice to see everyone discussing...

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  25. Anonymous5:18 AM

    I believe it was Director Feng Xiaogang who, by killing the empress, gave birth to a lot of phoenix-like internet buzz :D

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    1. Anonymous1:06 AM

      YES.100% correct.I was the crew there.he told me when he was drunk.

      Delete
  26. I thought it could have been the man that gave the empress the poison, where the empress gives the man arsenic enough for one indirectly telling him to kill himself. The sword? you ask... Could have been a different one or was salvaged. The man clearly stated that the human heart was more poisonous than anything. This meant that he knew his heart was capable of anything including taking the life of anyone who threatened his life. Plus he survived since he was not ingulfed by desire of which the empress thought had outlived making him the only one capable of remaining outside the circle of revenge and desire to survive any outcome.

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  27. I thought it could have been the man that gave the empress the poison, where the empress gives the man arsenic enough for one indirectly telling him to kill himself. The sword? you ask... Could have been a different one or was salvaged. The man clearly stated that the human heart was more poisonous than anything. This meant that he knew his heart was capable of anything including taking the life of anyone who threatened his life. Plus he survived since he was not ingulfed by desire of which the empress thought had outlived making him the only one capable of remaining outside the circle of revenge and desire to survive any outcome.

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  28. Anonymous2:41 PM

    The writer who wrote the story line did it. Case close.

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  29. Anonymous4:52 PM

    It was the poison dude who did this

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  30. Anonymous7:20 PM

    It was a metaphor. Everyone she had close to her died because of her directly or indirectly. She "killed" herself. She's alone.

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  31. Anonymous7:26 PM

    Yup. It's a metaphor for "Nobody survives the destructive force of having such lust for power..."
    She's symbolically killed herself!

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    ReplyDelete
  33. It was Wu luan's weapon that killed her. We musn't forget that. After dying to save her life why would he then kill her? also if you notice, the Emperor never ever picks up weapon.

    Personally, I think it's a spirit.

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  34. It was Wu luan's weapon that killed her. We musn't forget that. After dying to save her life why would he then kill her? also if you notice, the Emperor never ever picks up weapon.

    Personally, I think it's a spirit.

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  35. Andrew Oid8:17 PM

    I just watched the film again and had this question of who killed the Empress at the end. After reading the comments, I think the Emperor (the uncle) is the likely culprit. I think the quiet orderliness with which the attendants leave the scene of the murder bears witness to this. Also, it must be remembered, some of the suspects could not have gained access to her or even entrance into the palace.

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  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  37. Anonymous1:38 AM

    look at 01:43:20 , it was ling the maid

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  38. It was the maid. As aikadragon states

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  39. Anonymous9:20 PM

    At first I thought it might be the empress herself that killed her. I mean it might have been a different perspective but she was going crazy at the end because everyone close to her died. So she might have killed herself but in her crazy state of mind, she might have thought it was someone else. But then again the weapon was dropped into the water, so it could possibly not be her either. I still think it's the uncle or the ghost of the original emperor. The maid could possibly be but if it was then the director should have added more details about that

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  40. Anonymous11:18 PM

    It was Qing. She was Yin's daughter, and could be emperor. She also had the most revenge to seek after the death of her love, brother, and the exile of her father. During her performance, her persona had changed from the innocent girl played at the beginning to a calculating expression of someone who knows what they are doing, and as any good swordsperson knows, you never reveal your ability unless you are prepared and have the chance to win. She knew interrupting the emperor before he drank would reveal the plot to kill him, and she knew to fake her death. The empress underestimated her.

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