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Back to 1942 Reviews

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June 1, 2014
praiseworthy where drew inhumanity at war smoothly.
May 16, 2014
A difficult film to watch, but an important one.
November 3, 2013
This movie is rated 40% here simply because most critics lack the capability to appreciate the film's true value.

How much a viewer can get out of this 'movie' is purely up to the viewer's personal knowledge about China. If a viewer have sufficient knowledge about China, this piece is a priceless treasure that worth watching over and over with new insights discovered each time.

Unfortunately this means not even many of the 'Chinese people' living on this planet nowadays would appreciate this film, let along other non-Chinese people.

It saddens me to see this 200% film gets rated 40% here, however knowing this film is a diamond, rather than a tomato, dampens the sad feeling.
September 22, 2013
I think it is a great movie that got u thinking.
September 18, 2013
This movie throws a sweet spotlight on a sour chapter in the history of the Chinese revolution. It's valuable material, and well-portrayed cinematically and thematically. Until Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins show up. Pretend you don't see them, with their fakey-Hollywood heroics (Brody) and abyssmal accents (who is Robbins trying to be? German? Dutch? Walloon? Who can say)? For those of us who love Asian history and Asian cinema, we don't need the nod to Hollywood to sell the story...our B-grade actors only cheapen the opportunity to educate, inform, and inspire.
August 31, 2013
Some reviewers said that they could not feel the emotions despite the gory scenes and horrifying conditions the movie paints. (by the way it was very artistic and a beautiful film to watch) I believe this is due to the emotional triggers used by the director being fairly "Chinese" and it may be harder for a complete non-Chinese to resonate with these triggers.

The cast learned a completely new dialect very well, and refugee actors spoke in authentic Henan dialect, giving the film a very earthly, very homely-to-that-region feel that contrasted with the more Beijing Mandarin spoken by the national government officials. The movie was intense and appropriately peppered with black humor (the nonchalance being part of it). If the emotions were any less "subtle," any more pronounced or melodramatic, it would detract from the movie and cause the emotions to feel "fake". The movie would not be as successful. It is precisely this "muffling" (only perceived by some as so) effect that really characterizes how the Chinese people have "dealt with" a long history of awful oppression, injustice, and tragic fate. It was precisely this complete shock, dumbfounded-ness, starved exhaustion, yielding to bad circumstances, and "grayscale" performance by the actors that make the story and emotions so absolutely loud, and even more sorrowful. The way the director treated it was spot on; the movie was very well made.

Certain connection points are not entirely bullseye, even imbecilic (nevertheless in a very realistic way); but the rest of the movie makes up for this flaw. It was also very interesting to see a monochromatic but accurate painting of human flaw in the governors that would be small on a personal scale but catastrophic on a provincial and national level.

Totally worth watching and deserving of a higher rating than it has received. Bravo! I am impressed.
August 27, 2013
It is one of the best Chinese movies in the past decade.
Cameron W. Johnson
Cameron W. Johnson

Super Reviewer

July 15, 2013
"Oh no, we gonna rock back to 1942, and then we'll take it higher!" For some reason, I can't help but think that when I see this film's title, or at least that was the cast until I saw that Adrien Brody is in this film, at which point I began to think about how he couldn't catch a break in 1942 as a Polish Jew, and how he's not likely to catch a break as an American journalist in the middle of a conflict between China and Japan, circa 1942. Shoot, Tim Robbins went to jail in '47, so I guess no one could catch a break in the 1940s, and according to this film, that most certainly includes the Chinese. First it's "Aftershock", a film about the Tangshan earthquake, and now we have this film about the Second Sino-Japanese War, so I guess it's safe to say that if you want a film about the Chinese not being able to catch a break, then you've got to go with Feng Xiaogang, even if you're not likely to catch all that much of a break in American cinemas (Speaking of catching a break, does anyone else want to me to take a break from saying, "catch a break"?). Well, this film didn't do too much better in China, at least compared to "Aftershock", which made ¥665 million, while this film, even with its high profile... in China (Oh yes, and I'm sure you've heard it, roundeye), makes ¥364 million on a ¥210 million budget. Man, 210 million of good ol' ching-ching of both a financial and, well, racist nature, and the effects in this film by the most intelligent nation in the world are still not that good, but then again, ¥210 million is probably "Paranormal Activity" in USD, so I'll let it go. It certainly helps that I find this film to be pretty good, though that's not to say that questionable moments in the effects aren't the only thing that challenge your investment in this film.

The mediocre, but kind of harsh-seeming consensus, at least by American critics, is that this film is an overblown mess of uneven focus that is too overambitious to be all that compelling, and quite frankly, I don't see where people get this, as I find the film to be pretty tight and thorough on the whole, and yet, I can't say that the critics are entirely inaccurate, because when the film gets overblown, it really loses much in the way of edge and focus, juggling a multitude of subplots generally well, but having moments where it loses track, and with it, focus, resulting in an inconsistency that thins out a sense of general direction for this layered epic, further hurt yet more unevenness. Pacing is yet another aspect that stands to be more inconsistent, yet that's perhaps mainly because this film has a tendency to stick with a specific level of pacing more than jar back and forth between levels, which would be could and all if this film's preferred pacing wasn't slow, inspired by excess material that also inspires the aforementioned problem of focal unevenness, as well as by excess filler that stops the progression of narrative cold and gets to become repetitious. The structural limp spells aren't too serious, or at least not on the whole, but they certainly stand, and considering the final product's near-two-and-a-half-hour runtime, it gradually becomes more and more difficult to deny their presence, especially when the limited momentum in story structure is made all the more glaring by dry spells, which are decidedly the most recurring plagues on this film, drying up atmosphere into a distancing coldness, sometimes to the point of being just downright dull. Sure, the dullness, like most everything else the critics are complaining about, isn't as bad as they say, meaning that the coldness in resonance isn't as severe as some might lead you to believe, but there's no denying that this epic stands to pick up the pace if it wishes to establish some sense of great sweep and piercing resonance, rather than spend too much time meditating upon worthy, but aimless material, and do so with only so much subtlety. If nothing else is being complained about by everyone and their dog, it's a lack of genuineness to this drama, and once again, such a problem isn't as severe as they say, but it nevertheless stands, for although this film isn't quite as manipulative as the still fairly rewarding "Aftershock", director Feng Xiaogang still has a tendency to blow little things like the playing up of Zhao Jiping unevenly used score out of proportion, and overemphasize, say, disturbing imagery and long periods of nothing but filler material of people suffering to get this film's point across, and reflect a certain overambition to the project. More often than not, the noble ambition behind this effort is fulfilled, but it really brings to light the areas in which good intentions are not done the justice they deserve, thus leaving the final product to fall short of its potential under the weight of uneven focus, pacing and subtlety. Of course, what is done right in this ambitious project is done so well that it ultimately proves to be more recognizable than the shortcomings, which are there, to be sure, but are overpowered by the final product's dramatic value, as well as its artistic value.

As surely as the problems in this film aren't quite as severe as they say, the cinematography by Lü Yue isn't as great as many perhaps reluctantly say, but make no mistake, this is a fine-looking film, as Yue delivers on a chillingly chalky color palette that is attractively unique by its own right, as well as complimentary to the grit in this harsh drama's mood, as well as on a certain tight scope that immerses you into the film's intricate production value, and by extension, the sweeping action. The action aspects to this war epic are unevenly played upon, and when warfare dramatizations do come into play, dynamicity is, as you can imagine, limited, but the action sequences in this film are still well-worth the wait, being grandly well-staged, with visual effects that are, as I jokingly stated in this article's opener, improvable, but adequately complimentary to the style of the warfare, as surely as the dramatic atmosphere proves to be complimentary to the weight of the warfare. Technically and stylistically, the final product is far from a spectacle, but it is impressive, with good looks and the occasional thrilling action set piece to punch up the effectiveness of this well-produced epic, and when it comes to the core of this drama, like I've been saying over and over again, I can't entirely subscribe my peers' lukewarm reception. Sure, storytelling is flawed, rich with focal and pacing issues that bloat the final product as kind of aimless, but there's never any denying that there is some considerable potential for an effective drama to this valuable subject matter dealing with the struggles of the oppressed during wartime, as well as the political intrigue surrounding the plots to take action for the sake of the misfortunate, especially when the meat of this important story is firmly brought to life by heights in Liu Zhenyun's script that boast human depth to characterization, which is itself brought to life by inspired performances. The critics at least agree that the acting in this film is strong, so nothing else is nailed by my fellow critical viewers of this film, it is the comments on this drama's performances, as most everyone delivers, whether it be our token, if rather ultimately unnecessary American stars Tim Robbins and Adrien Brody, - particularly Brody, who is moving and engrossingly relatable in his emotionally charged portrayal of Theodore H. White, a caring American who faces both danger and exposure to more suffering than he could have ever imagined as he enters a famished foreign land - or a hefty ensemble of Chinese talents who each give distinguished, dramatically piercing portrayals of the layered, mostly fictionalized representatives of a dark period for the people of Henan, China. The onscreen talent is most certainly there, and it's rich, as most everyone has a time to shine and move as carriers of much of the effectiveness within this important drama, but at the end of the day, in order for the film to reward, director Feng Xiaogang must deliver, and sure enough, in spite of his shortcomings as storyteller, Xiaogang meets every slow spells with an atmospherically kicked up spell, and ever manipulative moment with a genuine piece of dramatic punch that, while never really tear-jerking, compels thoroughly as a height in intrigue that wouldn't stand as firmly as it does without Xiaogang's inspiration, which in turn wouldn't stand as firmly as it does without ambition. Xiaogang clearly wants this film to succeed, and that makes the areas in which Xiaogang does not deliver hard to ignore, yet at the same time, the heart that goes into this project also emphasizes the strengths, of which there are enough to do justice to this important subject matter and make a genuinely compelling dramatic epic.

When it's all said and done, the problems in this film aren't as great as many say, but they still stand to some degree, with focal unevenness, aimless bloating, dull spots and manipulative areas - all emphasized by overambition - being considerable enough to drive the film short of what it wants to be, but not so short that the handsome cinematography, excellent production value, thrilling war sequences and compelling telling of a worthy story - anchored by well-developed writing, strong acting and heartfelt directorial storytelling - aren't able to carry "Back to 1942" as a rewarding meditation upon the terrible famine faced by the Chinese people during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

3/5 - Good
May 17, 2013
This movie is excellent if you are wanting to learn more about the history of China (war and famine) .... for it displayed a real China, unpleasant, even sad, but real.....
April 12, 2013
the truth is even worst than movie. love the filming.
March 29, 2013
I concur with a lack of connectivity but I think a degree of realism doesn't have to be super emotional or filled with particularly overdramatic lovable people if such ideal persons never existed. More importantly it attempts to tell a real story
Takeshi
March 24, 2013
Long drawn out drama on the 1942 famine in Henan province. Somehow, doesn't emotionally connect. Switching between famine, politics and war did not help. The characters we're not interesting enough to connect with.
January 9, 2013
i think there is a cultural gap between the disposition of the chinese story tellers and the western critics. it is not uncommon to see intentional detachments in chinese movies on past sufferings, esp those of the recent past, which still hurt. there are some good examples from zhangyimou too - for e.g. "To Live" which is about the suffering of a man who lived through the period between the chinese civil war till the end of the cultural revolution in china. they share a common theme - moving on. the narrator at the end of "Back to 1942" said he asked his mother, who is the little girl the landlord picked up near the end of the movie, about the event 70 years after the event and she replied after a long silence "i've forgotten about that terrible event. why are you bringing it up again?". that's the ultimate human strength - to move on. as long as you stay alive, you can move on. emotion is overrated. perhaps only those who have experienced great sufferings truly understand what that means.
December 17, 2012
Touching epic of inevitability and loss for some, disaster porn for others. I just could connect, even as I heard girls around me crying.

Perhaps too long, but full of epic scenes where the director shows his mastery of working large crowds. But also a tale of unmitigated loss, degradation and privation as two families make a starving exodus from their home.

The scope of the story is told through the struggle of province Governor Li Peiji to get aid from Generalissimo Chiang Ka-shek in WWII-era China. But the center of the story is the march of perdition (without eventual hope) for landlord Fan and his servant Shuang, along side one of the landlord's tenants, Hua Zhi.

There are moments of pride for these families and moments of horror. The war impacts their journey as much as the famine, which adds scope, but I found that the moments of emotion were over-presented. I could not connect with them because the situations were somewhat manipulative and excessively tragic to comprehend or empathize with.

But I know that my reaction was not entirely representative. Many cried, especially at the end when the worst of the worst befalls the remnants of the survivors. One indicator is that the jaded and whispering college-age kids speaking Mandarin behind us as we watched were silenced, some sobbing, as the movie closed. So this clearly works for some.

Just not for me.
December 12, 2012
Epic and distressing.
December 11, 2012
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December 10, 2012
This unwieldy movie doesn't quite know what it wants to be. The epic scenes are masterfully done, but on the whole, it lacks a real, beating heart. No, the overwrought music didn't help. And neither did the "Best Pointless White Actor in an Asian Film" winners Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins, who could've been completely excised from the film without harm - in fact, it could've helped sharpen the focus. Disappointing, coming from Feng Xiaogang.
December 6, 2012
A rather controlled and somber depiction of a dark chapter in modern history, subtly echoing another tragedy that happened 16 years later. Surprisingly un-judgmental and un-sentimental for a historical film recreating despair and lowest possible form of human existence.

Feng presents the multiple layers of clues and facts that lead to the ultimate tolls almost as-matter-of-factly, leaving the audience putting together the puzzles and drawing their own conclusions, which is a rather clever way of avoiding censorship and engaging the audience.

Could have been A LOT grittier and more affecting. Acting is powerful in this film. However for a film depicting a major famine that claimed over 3 million lives in recent history, not much huger is shown as visuals in the film, most of the lingering hunger is talked about/acted out which reduces the general affecting power of the film.

Xu Fan and Zhang Guo-Li are amazing in this film with their acting. Xu gives her most powerhouse performance yet, portraying the tough bottom-feeder hillbilly b*tch who would attempt anything/everything in defending her and her family's rights to live. However for a country woman who's been starving for over 100 days and more than willing to sell her kootch for a couple of crackers, what's with her double-chin (think Jennifer Lawrence's face in The Hunger Game -- she can act all she wants but I'm sorry, girlfriend is just NOT that hungry)? WTF happens to her makeup artist team and special visual effects people?!

Adrien Brody is effectively engaging as a very eager T.H. White who's desperately trying to expose the truth, whether driven by his journalist instincts, Pulitzer, or a genuine sympathy for the poor and depraved. However don't even get me to start with Tim Robbins - why is he even in the film??? The couple of scenes he's in are cringe-inducing. Even if you edit them out altogether it would not affect the story's flow whatsoever.
PantaOz
PantaOz

Super Reviewer

December 5, 2012
Last night I had an opportunity to watch this movie in the half-empty cinema theatre in Suzhou... and that was disappointing. On the other hand, if you now that the movie about the biggest suffering and not easy scenes to digest will last 2 hours and 26 minutes, it is understandable.

A tragic story of a North Henan landlord who embarks on a long journey to Shaanxi province to escape the 1942 famine, and trying to survive as war with Japan is becoming a reality, was very difficult for most of us Westerners watching it - emotionally and in any other way. I cannot find too many faults in what the director Xiaogang Feng did but in the second part the events were already a burden which was hard to carry forward. Beginning was dynamic and vibrant and I enjoyed it immensely, especially when Landlord Fan (Zhang Guoli) endeavours to calm the crowd by preparing a feast, but his house is burned down in the chaos following. Master Fan has no other choice but to join the refugees with his teenage daughter Xing Xing (Fiona Wang), his servant Shuang Zhu (Zhang Mo), and his tenant Hua Zhi (Xu Fan) on a treacherous journey south.

One of the worst moments in the Chinese history, when the Japanese government attempts to turn the Chinese people away from their government by offering them sustenance, and the Chinese government finds themselves forced to choose between feeding their troops or the masses, was presented the best possible way without offending any of the sides, but the lack of emotional maturity was very evident during the movie - maybe it was done purposely because when you are trying to survive, emotions are not always present, but for me was very odd and unexpected.

Real epic drama with masterful director, excellent acting of great actors, well developed screenplay and characters, and huge emotional vacuum!
December 5, 2012
A very powerful movie at times and pretty silly at others. The movie does a great job at showing the scope of suffering and hopelessness that so many Chinese refugees faced at this time. Politicians who are reluctant during a war to move scarce resources to help, and are ultimately powerless to do almost anything as corrupt middle men steal most of the relief. The movie also provides much needed funny albeit dark comic relief However, it also suffers from some very unfortunate unintentional comic moments, like during the middle of an air raid scene a man is able to spot a bomb falling from the sky heading for another man and pushes him out of the way. This moment cause my girl friend to bust out in great laughter while such horrible things where occurring on screen.

In all you should be prepared for what you are getting yourself into this is a 2.5 hour movie of suffering and helplessness. However, I felt the movie caused me to look at some things very differently then I would have before. Things that we might think are fates worse then death are some of the best opportunities for salvation. I was also proud that this story could be told. If you are interested in seeing a human WWII film that doesn't involve the Holocaust this is a very educational and ultimately fulfillment film.
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