Back to 1942 Reviews
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.
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.
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!
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.
At the end I came to the following conclusion.The Chinese Government attempted to use such a crap to brainwash Chinese people: Chinese are always unfortunate, they muse be strong to avoid any tragedy because Japanese are bad guys and the Americans are axxhole.
What a shame. It's not 1984. It's 2012 now.