Back to 1942 - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Back to 1942 Reviews

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January 18, 2013
Painful, rarely told story of the 3 million people who starved to death in Henan Provence, China in 1942. Powerfully told from a very personal viewpoint. Worth watching if you want a reality check on the stupidity of governments and war.
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.
½ 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
½ 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.
½ December 7, 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.
Super Reviewer
½ December 6, 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.
December 5, 2012
i want to see what do in 1942
½ December 5, 2012
I spent almost 2.5hr on such a crap! Technically speaking, Feng crafted an epic tale on 2nd World War China, but the story telling itself is emotion-less, even if the plot filled with sorrows.

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.
December 4, 2012
This movie has good production values and actors, but mostly nothing happens in its lengthy running time. It makes for a depressing movie. Characters walk, then get bombed. Rinse, repeat. Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins have some small roles. but the movie doesn't have a lot in terms of a theme or message to go with its sombre tone. The camera work was splendid, I can say that for sure.
½ December 2, 2012
A mess. I don't know what Feng want to show.The movie is lack of emotional, you can hardly feel the characters.
December 1, 2012
In Back to 1942 the audience follows the protagonists on a flet for survival. The result is a failed attempt to escape the hardships brought about by natural disaster, war, corruption, cruelty, fear and the dimise of hope. By bombarding the audience with a chain of horrific events the audience's emotional responses becomes numb near the end of the movie. This brilliantly reflects how people who witness exceeding amounts of surreal atrocity in the context of war become numb emotionally and adopt an attitude of indifference. The movie is indeed not uplifting. It may be upsetting to fans of hollywood movies that there is no happy ending or soul/spiritual victory for the main characters, but what this movie portrays reflect reality more closely. The movie is not meant to be uplifting but rather to show what true hopelessness is like.
½ November 30, 2012
its not a typical story-telling, not the typical narrative that we are accustomed to. No it does not "MAKE" you feel things, and I realized in the end that i do not want to be made feeling, nor do I want to be entertained as if it was another cinematic experience. If one could embrace the fact that the comfort zone is deconstructed and to actively look into the characters' eyes and to look into their starving souls, one will hear some profound questions being asked by a much desolated and trembling voice.
November 21, 2012
One of the best movies produced in China...My favorite Chinese director...
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