Battling stereotypes

Updated: 2015-07-09 08:42

By Wang Kaihao(China Daily)

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A new big budget movie about the war against the Japanese aims at authenticity rather than propaganda, Wang Kaihao reports.

A new war epic aims to shake off the stereotypes of Chinese mainstream revolutionary films, according to its makers.

Baituan Dazhan (The Hundred Regiments Offensive, although the official English title of the film is yet to be decided) will premiere on Sept 1, two days before the 70th anniversary of the victory of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).

"I understand Chinese audiences have got used to Hollywood-style battle scenes, but we wanted to tell a story on China in a Chinese way," said the director Ning Haiqiang at a news conference in Beijing last week.

The film depicts a 1940 campaign by the 108 regiments of the Eighth Route Army, which was led by Communist Party of China, in several provinces in northern China. Although the number of casualties varies, the campaign is generally believed to have cost Japan and its collaborators more than 20,000 soldiers. It is hailed by the Party as one of its biggest battlefield victories and is considered a milestone in the war.

Ning points out Chinese soldiers in that campaign mostly used light arms, and some of their tactics have not been seen in other productions about World War II.

"Tank and cannon fire always looks good on the big screen, but we have to respect history," Ning tells China Daily, saying that exaggerations in TV series about the war have provoked strong criticism from viewers.

"Historical authenticity is a major concern, and I believe the Chinese-style war scenes revealing our own people's wisdom and courage can be equally intriguing for audiences."

And, the director promised the upcoming production is "purely a war movie" rather than a film with a revolutionary theme.

"In the past, Chinese films would make great efforts to create a tense atmosphere and focus on the top commanders when depicting a campaign," he explains. "Filmmakers liked to combine stories to explain the background to the battles, while the battles themselves lacked concrete plots. However, when we show the battle, some of the historical background is self-evident."

Chairman Mao Zedong, who is usually a protagonist in wartime films, thus relinquishes the leading role in the film to two Chinese generals, Peng Dehuai and Zuo Quan. Several characters are also used to better reflect the campaign from the point of view of ordinary soldiers.

"The time has probably passed when it is necessary to have similarity of appearance," says Liu Zhibing, the actor who plays Zuo, recalling the preference of previous Chinese movies to use actors who looked like the historical figures they were portraying.

"To bring the names in the history books alive, it's more important to convey their spirit and understand them as a common person rather than a hero," Liu says.

It took two months to finish all the location shooting, and one scene depicting the sabotage of a railway line involved more than 1,000 PLA soldiers as extras.

A short trailer shown at last week's news conference suggests the film will also portray the campaign from Japanese army's points of view and the grand battle scenes seem to be high-budget.

The actual budget remains a secret. However, when domestic cinema giant China Film Group Corporation, August First Film Studios (best known for its numerous productions of military theme) and newly-booming Alibaba Pictures are all involved in a film, something looks certain: It had a lot of money behind it.

La Peikang, general manager of the China Film Group Corporation, says such films are worth the money. "We will let the past tell the future. Our big screens full of entertainment still need our predecessors' courage and uprightness to nurture patriotism in the younger generation."

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 Battling stereotypes

Baituan Dazhan depicts one of the biggest battlefield victories of Chinese soldiers in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). Provided To China Daily

Battling stereotypes

(China Daily USA 07/09/2015 page09)