I miss things all the time and I am by no means a sophisticated film-goer, but I’ll try my best to get the conversation started:
The pouch in question was first given to the shadow Jing by the Commander’s wife Xiao Ai at the beginning of the film. This was right after we learned that Commander Ziyu had been secretly training Jing as his shadow, which involved the morbid detail of replicating an old (and supposedly deadly) war wound on his chest. The Commander used a vile concoction of herbs to achieve this, and King Peiliang subsequently used some unknown medicine to “help treat” this wound in court. Out of her own good will, the wife gave the shadow “real” medicine in a silk pouch to help heal this wound, which you saw him desperately do in a boat after he left court. This is my best guess of what was happening because the subtitles did not make this clear.
As you know, there is a lot of romantic tension between the shadow and the Commander’s wife, and the pouch came to represent a physical token of this forbidden love. You see the shadow look over the pouch one more time before he sets off to duel General Yang in Jingzhou. Perhaps to reinforce to the audience that the Commander’s wife is the only reason he is following through with this suicidal plan.
By the time we reach the scenario you’ve described where the shadow returns the bloodied pouch back to the Commander’s wife, a lot has happened not only in the movie but also within the shadow Jing. Jing somehow survived against all odds his encounter with General Yang. The King had tried to kill Jing. The King had also tried to have the Commander killed. The Commander literally backstabbed the King (perhaps expectedly), and Jing ended up finishing the King off, right before framing the Commander for the assassination. All the while the Commander’s wife is near-paralyzed with fear and shock at the events quickly unfolding before her eyes.
So maybe Jing gave the pouch back to her to comfort her, to remind her of the man for whom she had once shown compassion. Or maybe he returned the pouch as a way to put the past behind him and further demonstrate who he was going to become at the end of the movie.
It’s a huge mess at the end, but now Jing is able to emerge from the bloodbath an independent man with his own agency moving forward. I’m a romantic as much as the next guy, but I felt that Jing was seizing an opportunity to become something much greater than his birthright and upbringing, and the wife was peering through the door hole and seeing someone new and perhaps more different/unfamiliar than the man she once knew as represented by the silk pouch.
I would also add that Commander tried to assassinate Jing at the end. Right after instructing Shadow to finish off the king - there's a clear shot of him reaching for the blade on his back. Shadow anticipated this move and stabbed Commander first.
The commander's wife has just witnessed the shadow murder both her husband and the king. She is also fully aware that the shadow has manipulated the bodies in a way that appears as though her husband (a masked assassin) has murdered the king, leaving the shadow in a position to take power. He hands her the pouch (the same pouch she had given him previously in kindness) as a way of reconciling with her, presumably in the hope that she will continue to play along as his wife as he begins to rule the kingdom. The shadow exits the court and speaks his lie to the crowd waiting outside.
As the wife runs up to the door, stops and peers through the hole, we now release that this is the moment where she 'faces the most difficult choice of her life' (as mentioned at the start of the movie).
Does she play along with the shadow's story?
Or does she tell the truth?
IMO, the ending where she peeks through the door cracks can have different meanings, and it depends how you understood the plot.
Here are a few possibilities...
She is the only person left in the "shadows" in the end. She is looking at Jing from the inside out. There is a scare on her face as she comes to realize her new reality.
The door to the palace == secret door in the wall. But now, figuratively speaking, she is the commander looking out at Jing.
The scene doesn't mean anything. As she is about to walk out she stops, shocked, seeing Jing being stabbed by the second commander, or some other event.
The point would be to keep the viewer in the shadows by stopping there. Experience what it feels like when you don't know.
I think #2 is most accurate here with the whole plot of the movie revolving around a humiliated commander stuck in his own cage (referenced early on) plotting from his small chamber only seeing the outside through his hole in the wall.
The wife now will become a trapped person in this facade (if she continues with it) or faces trial and possibly execution for being related and involved in the murder or the King.
Typical Chinese drama-like movie where they make the plot predictable in a satisfying way. (Ex. The guard standing in the back? Nahhhhh king is defffffinitely getting stabbed ... OHHH SHIT I WAS RIGGGHT)
I realize its a late reply but I just saw the movie and had to share my thoughts. Firstly the way I saw it was that it was to comfort her. The reason being when he approached her, he was a bit startled by how scared she was of him now, which gave him pause. And then he gave her the pouch to relax her and remind her that hes still the same man.
I will add that I understand why the wife was in shock as she didnt know the shit he went through to be in that position, and she was still in shock that he even came back alive. Them sleeping together was for her the last moment they could be together. Then she finds out in a passing reference that his mother has been killed. And then the next moment her real husband and her king both are dead. Though she was disloyal to her husband, the movie never should her having any hatred towards him and she still cared for him.
I think its obvious she will stay quiet when to comes to the last scene. The real story is just too unbelievable, as even if she unmasks the assassin, the real commander is too disfigured to be recognizable. Plus the commander already has friends in court (the other generals love him and were wishing for the day he could take power). I love how he accepted his new identity and finally became a "real" person. The only person I am sad for is the king. He should have told his sister at least part of his plan, which would have saved her life. And also being in a room with a shadow (whose mother was just killed), and a known traitor without any guards is just plain dumb. Also how was the asasssin (real commander) able to stand upright? Wasnt his back crooked?
The movie has plot holes but is decent 8/10.