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The domestic release of this thunderous Chinese war epic was delayed last year for what trade magazine Variety described as “mysterious political reasons”. It is thought the film displeased Communist party academics by portraying rival Kuomintang army officers during the 1937 Sino-Japanese war in too positive a light. To an outsider, however, The Eight Hundred looks like a paragon of tub-thumping patriotism in its description of heroic Chinese soldiers defending the Sihang warehouse in the battle for Shanghai. Like Dunkirk for Brits, the incident is seen here as an honourable defeat, a moment to galvanise national pride.
Director Guan Hu plunges straight into nightmarish battlefield chaos with breathtaking scenes of Shanghai bombed to ashes and burning rubble. The Chinese army is defeated, outnumbered and outgunned. The city has fallen but a single regiment is ordered stay behind to defend the warehouse – a symbolic last stand (western newspapers called it “the Chinese Alamo”). It would be miracle if these troops could hold out for a single day against the Japanese artillery slamming into the factory walls. And Guan goes hammer and tongs with the special effects, delivering stupendously, joint-rattlingly-loud battle scenes and combat sequences edited to the lightning pace of a superhero movie.
Across the river from the warehouse is Shanghai’s neutral zone – populated by a chic cosmopolitan mix of Chinese and foreigners, who initially watch the spectacle across the water while sipping cocktails as if it was free street theatre. As the four-day struggle for survival nears its end, the bravery of Chinese soldiers becomes suicidal, as they strap on grenades and leap out of windows on to the Japanese troops below. But with so much intense focus lavished on the action, there’s none to spare for the characters’ emotional lives, and it’s hard to care much about who lives or dies. As for the musical score, it ought to be cautioned by the police for sonic assault and battery.
Source: The Guardian
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