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Customer Review

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A matter of honour - the bugle call, 5 May 2008
This review is from: Assembly [DVD] (DVD)
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There are quite a few War Movies made about soldiers reminiscent of war. Saving Private Ryan, Brotherhood, Flags of Our Fathers and Days of Glory to name a few. This movie ranks with the best of them.

This movie is surprising in many ways. First of its production values are very high and on par with the best of Hollywood or European Cinema. In fact this is a much better movie than Enemy at the Gates or Flags of Our Fathers and is quite possibly what Flags wanted to be. It takes some getting used to watching a Chinese movie that feels European.

The story is in two parts.

The first half is a continuation of battle scenes that are among the best in war movies for some time. The prespective is at company level so you get quite big battles but it is possible to focus on individuals. Scenery and unit detail is incredible and everything is well done. There is a small dash of theatrics but for the most part these are very realistic gritty battle scenes with excellent cinema work. As I said the best to be seen for quite some time, I would say on par with Band of Brothers except the scenes are bigger and more impressive than in the television series. Attention to detail is of high quality and viewers will be treated to quite a novel experience such as oil barrel mortars. War movie enthusiast should be well pleased. Also the movie throws you right in there from the start with no sentimental scenes of old men in war cemeteries, lying in their dying bed etc.

The second part is a story of redemption. As a survivor Gu Zidi tries to piece togeather what happened and redeem his brothers and himself. This part of the movie is a very Chinese story set in the post civil war Communist state of China and will be harder on the general audience. The important part is if the bodies of the dead are not found then the soldiers are MIA and their families honour is tarnished. Their deaths are worth 200 barrels of rice but would be 700 barrels if the died heroes of Liberation, but that is merely trying to put a price to honour, and the Chinese take honour very seriously. This one man struggle is hard since record keeping in the civil war is sketchy at best and the battlefield has turned into a mountain of coal from nearby mines. Close to the end a solitary veteran is trying to dig at the mountain of coal to redeem his brothers.

The pace of the two stories is very different but the story is focused, linear and is free from going constantly back and forth. Historically it is interesting in that I don't recall any other movie set in the post World War 2 Chinese Civil War although this movie goes on to the Korean War. Nor is this movie any kind of white wash with clear boundries. It goes on in shades of gray.

I thought the movie was good, in fact probably the best one of its kind. I liked how the story went in a straight line instead of going back and forth but it did break the story into 2 distinct halves. War movie buffs will find pleanty to like as will those with an interest in Chinese history if they can stomach the first half and even then there are interesting things such as lack of equipment of the communists and the portrayal of the Chinese soldiers and the conduct of the communist forces. In this day and age when it has become popular to demonize Mao, people tend to forget that there was a reason why the communists won. I recommend Assembly and look forward to seeing more of this new Chinese Cinema.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 May 2008 11:18:43 BDT
great review... you cover all the important points. It IS odd watching such a Western looking Chinese movie, and the abrupt change in tone from first half to second half could, and indeed has, been offputting to some - but I agree with you that the movie is all the better for it, because it plays down the sympathy angle and concentrates on the story.. like Private Ryan without the prologue and epilogue!

Posted on 6 May 2008 17:19:01 BDT
Thank you Mr. Kennedy for your positive input. I happen to like War Movies a lot and this movie catered well to my interests. I also have a daughter adopted from China and have more than a passing knowledge in Chinese history and found the movie to be rather accurate and probably this made me enjoy the second half of the movie a little better. I have read a few comments about the film being biased but didn't see this myself, I thought it was rather honest. Why not 5 stars? Well I try to reserve 5 stars for the exceptional and this movie fell just short. A part of that could be the frame of the story but all said it is a good movie and I do recommend it.

Posted on 7 Sep 2009 23:24:45 BDT
lapin rouge says:
What a self important review. Please dont try to outline the whole story (it's not your place to summarise the script) & it spoils it for future viewers. Nobody reads 7 paragraph, 100+ word essays. I wholeheartedly agree with you however, that this is an exceptional film.
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