Fight Against Invaders (1965)
Hi all, Nate here, back with another installment in my occasion series on Movies from Nations We Americans Love to Hate. In this case, China, our favorite scary boogieman who lurks in the shadows to steal our God-given superpower status by flooding us with cheap consumer electronics and poorly-stitched t-shirts. Our film concerns the bloody Korean War in the early 1950s which pitted the honorable and valiant Chinese Army and their Nork brothers against the decadent imperialist Americans and their bootlicking South Korean lackeys. While many movies have been made that showed this war from the American side, this is the first film from the Chinese perspective that Iíve seen, and itís always a treat to see opposing angles of something as naturally fraught with differences of opinion as a war. Plus, this print from 1965 is simply gorgeous and will make for great screen caps.
A technical note: I donít speak/read Chinese and there are no subtitles or dubs. Therefore, I am making half of this review up based on what it looks like is happening on screen. Pretty typical for me :).
So our heroes are all Chinese soldiers of various ranks and food ration levels, all strapping young men with perfect hair and easy smiles, dressed in those fabulous Chairman Mao fatigues with the soft caps. They are emotional, they are dedicated, they are loyal to their country and their political system and prone to monologuing about their love of state and party, and they are all miraculously clean-shaven despite the wartime perils, much like the corn-fed aw-shucks GIs that you see in American war movies of the same era. These sorts of depictions of frontline soldiers as morally upstanding flag-bearers with brilliant white teeth are standard for war movies from every nation in the early years of mass cinema. It wasnít until the disillusionment and daily grind of the Vietnam era that movies began to show soldiers in combat as they often are, scared kids who donít want to be there and just want to make it home alive.
Helping out the local farmers, such nice boys.
The plot itself is convoluted and confusing (mostly because I donít understand anything they're saying) but it starts out with a hunky young Chinese soldier being captured and taken to be interrogated by an American General with a Hitler mustache and anger issues. They yell at each other a lot and Iím not sure why, but the General sure seems frothing mad at something. The Americans are not treated well in this movie, when they are shown they are always portrayed as bumbling, violent, drug-addled thugs who live only to rape and pillage. The actors playing the American soldiers were clearly coached to act like lecherous, drunken buffoons with very little unit discipline and respect for authority. A couple of the American characters are even played flaming gay, with such effeminacy surely a sign of the Americanís low moral fiber. Iím sure this went over well with domestic Chinese audiences, especially in the 1960s when things were really, really tense between China and the US, but itís often so cartoonishly over-the-top that it detracts from what is really an engaging look at the different human sides to a conflict.
USHitler General needs some more wine.
Over north of the front lines, the Chinese are planning an attack south against the Americans and much time is spent on detailing tactics and showing maps and guys running around with branches tied to their helmets for camouflage. Surely greatness will be achieved on the battlefield! Helped in this is a pretty female defector from the south that shows up one day. She is somehow related to the captured Chinese soldier from the first scene (or maybe romantically?) and she has crossed lines to try and get help to rescue him. She may also be related to the leader of the Chinese Army unit in the region, not sure. When she gets to the Chinese HQ, thereís instantly some tension between her and a girl who works there, probably over that one dude with the hair. The new girl isnít bothered by this much, sheís just happy to be in the land of her people again (for a cringing second there I thought she was going to break out in a songÖ).
Turncoat girl is gazing at a portrait of Mao (really).
Lots of maps in the ChiCom HQ.
The middle third of the movie is mostly exposition and longing looks over the verdant mountains towards the Motherland. Chairman Maoís wife shows up? What? Thereís a lot of talking. A lot of talking. Man, I think I picked the wrong movie. Maoís wife talks some more, encouraging the troops, musing about honor and noble sacrifice. I guess, maybe sheís talking about the Knicks game last night or vege pizza, who knows? Everyone is smoking, probably crappy Manchurian tobacco. Some other guy gives a speech to the troops, must be someone important because theyíre all in rapt attention. Ugh, so boring.
Inspecting the troops.
Less talking, more leaping forward, greatly.
And finally, 75 minutes into the movie, we have our first action set-piece as the Chinese Army sets their plans in motion and surges south across the line. Itís shot mostly in the dark, but the frequent explosions light up the shots dramatically and the music is powerful. Stuntmen run about as prop bombs blow up around them, stock footage artillery booms, model tanks roll, the chick gets her uniform sleeve ripped, itĎs all very impressive and loud. Some characters die, others are wounded, but since I donít know who any of them are or what they were doing, I donít really care. The American General punks out and flees with his men but their convoy is ambushed on a road by mortars and commandoes. The Americans try and storm a hill, the Chinese hold them off with spit and grit and automatic weapons fire, and the enemy command staff is caught and summarily killed. Unable to resist the Red Tide, the enemy is routed and the field belongs to the victorious Chinese and there is much rejoicing and reciting of Communist party tracts.
Here come the Reds!
And there goes the Whites!
Hey, whatever happened to the subplot with the captured guy and his sister or whoever? Well, the good guys storm the HQ where heís being held and machinegun all the cowardly Americans. Heís freed and gets a chaste welcome from his sister (lover?), all within the bounds of the Chinese state censorship boardís regulations on anything racy on film that might enflame the peasant class toÖdo whatever people do when they see such things (dance?). And that's the end, roll credits.
Topshelf money shot right there.
Technically, the movieís look and feel are outstanding. The sets are superb, the camerawork is on par with Western movies, and the active cooperation of the Chinese military means that there are real tanks and guns to been seen and used, as well as hundreds and hundreds of soldiers to fill the backgrounds of battle scenes. The sound on my copy is also fantastic, with some really great music cues and stirring patriotic Maoist dirges. The music choice for the main battle scene is especially good, some string-heavy instrumental piece bordering on Italian classical, good but very weird.
Music makes him sad.
So the take-away from this film for me was that every coin has two sides and wars are hardly ever viewed the same way by all involved. Americans see the Korean War as a victory over Communism and the Chinese see it as a mighty slap to the face of Western empire-building. Both sides are wrong, both sides are right, no one wins in the end.
Yay, go Red Team?
Written in January 2015 by Nathan Decker.
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