DIRECTOR: Ye Daying
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Li Zhang
CAST: Ke-Yu Guo, Vladmill Nizmiroff, Xiaoling Xu
ONE WORD: Gut wrenching WW2 film. Excellent in every facet.
For anyone that still thinks that Hollywood can make good war movies, maybe American audiences should experience the brutality of films like this. It takes not only courage, but also insanity to devise one of these films, but the stories are plenty and there is much more that we will never hear, that we may find out about via a movie. One can only remember, Hollywood's famous line, "...the horror, the horror,..." and this film, as gentle as it is, never once wavers from the teenager's points of view and thus gives us a terrorized view that is so scary and sick, that it may be a film best suited not for meek audiences.
It is, as usual, a true story, of a pair of Chinese kids that ended up in a Russian school, apparently sent there to be reformed as "revolutionaries", although it seems to be that they were sent there to get away from the Chairman Mao's Revolution -- either way it fits. As the WW2 is starting, the school the children are sent to seems to be normal, with the typical child play. It does have a bunch of teachers that are a bit over zealous about what the "truth" is, as a way to build character into the students. Both Chinese children (ChuChu and Luo) stand in front of their classmates and tell their stories, as they learn Russian. ChuChu has the harder time, as she is forced by the teacher to tell the real story, a sign that these rumors had been passed around amidst the children already. To the dismay of the class and the instructors, ChuChu unleashes the truth with such gripping authority that this type of event in that school is probably over. She tells the story of her father, whom she has only seen once, when he was murdered by the Revolution.
After the Germans take over, a bunch of children engineer an escape. Most of the children disappear, but some end up back in prison, only to be tortured with the death of another Russian, if they do not confess who told them to do it - as if the instinct of survival required any one to tell them so. Many of them live in the country and manage to survive, although it is clear that many must have disappeared during this time as well.
But the brutality is just starting. When they are invaded by the Germans, the reign of terror starts. A young man accidentally engineers an escape for many of the children, but even though many made it, he didn't. Amidst all this is the unit commander that seems to be a war medic that went wrong, since he lost his leg. He is now the commander of the unit that is responsible for the area where they are stationed. His pastime as a doctor is revealed when he undresses a teenage girl in one party. He has tattooed her whole body front and back. ChuChu has become one of the doctor's household slaves, only to fall from grace by trying to steal and eat one of the tasty morsels at the same party. From then on, ChuChu is the new study for the doctor who proceeds to tattoo her backside with a full color piece. But the war is coming to an end. The commander kills himself, and now comes the harshest part of the film. Luo has survived and from a bombed building he has been able to make his own revenge. He is using bullets, or some sort of projectiles to attack the Germans as they come close to the building. He aims to areas that are obviously dangerous and if it does not kill them, it should do enough damage that these soldiers will probably will be left behind for dead anyway. But even he can not survive. But in his glory, he takes several more Germans with him. Heroic to the end. The story continues as Luo had befriended a young girl, and had told her the whole story of his past. ChuChu meets the young girl who promptly tells her the story, and it is as if the two have connected one last time.
ChuChu survived, where most perished.
These kinds of films, are horrific and then some. They are difficult to sit through, but this film has a softness of directing that makes it difficult to leave, not by making us feel guilty or anything, but by almost gently forcing us to see what happens. The first hint at the party when the teenage girl is undressed, does not exactly suggest the next chapter in the Doctor's madness, and neither does it suggest that the girl is being abused in any other way, which we know probably happened anyway.
The acting in this film is superb, and the only characters that are devoid of individuality are the Germans, with the exception of the Commander. There are not very many films that have the courage of showing what this film has, and still gives us a rather positive memento in the end. Amidst all this, Luo is remembered fondly, even if we do not know if he was a brother or simply another young man.
It's difficult to rate a film like this. In many ways, it makes us totally ashamed that almost all we can enjoy and see in film is stuff that makes us laugh, not stuff that had serious implications into the nature of many peoples and their suffering. It just puts another serious spin on the thought and reason of why so many Chinese leaders have steadfastly been against the Western world policies and leaders for so long -- their own brutality not being the point of discussion here.
The film, although Chinese, is pretty much almost all Russian, which makes it interesting that the film was released in China, when it did. One would almost seem to think that these kinds of stories would eventually show up in films by the likes of Mikhalkov, but no, it was a Chinese director and writer that put this together, and created a tapestry that is so well done, that it is almost impossible to think of this as a bad film. It is really well made, and the children carry this film so well.
4.5 of 5 GIBLOONS
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