The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Written by Liu Heng, Feng Xiaogang’s Ji jie hao opens with a shot of a bugle in official repose. Its silence here couldn’t be more apt. During the Chinese Civil War, Captain Gu Zidi (Zhang Hanyu, tremendous), leading Ninth Company, 139th Regiment, 3rd Battalion of the Liberation Army, is charged with defending a mine against the enemy, the Nationalist Kuomintang, until the blow of the bugle instructs retreat to assembly. Gu persists in the suicide mission although others in the company believe that the bugle sounded; Gu, it turns out, is the sole survivor. Yet instead of his soldiers being regarded as heroes, they are officially declared “missing in action.” After the war, and the Korean War as well in which he enlists, Gu assumes a peacetime mission: to locate the bodies of his fallen brethren and have the 46 soldiers declared heroes.
It is an insult to this brilliant film from China to compare it to Steven Spielberg’s silly, sentimental Saving Private Ryan (1998), except in that its first part is unusually gripping in its grim, bloody portrait of combat. Rather, Feng’s film reminds me much more of the great Polish film Eroica (1957). Like that film, which was written by Jerzy Stefan Stawiński and directed by Andrzej Munk, Feng’s Ji jie hao pricks the whole notion of war heroism, and it does so on two fronts: in order for the Forty-Six to be heroic, it becomes necessary for Gu to have them officially declared so—an indication that heroism isn’t bound up in actions or behavior but in official acknowledgement and political advertising; moreover, the driving force behind Gu’s allegiance to this cause of his is not what the Forty-Six did, or how they behaved, but rather his own enormous guilt over their deaths.
B(U)Y THE BOOK
MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.