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It has some good points to make, and a pretty bravura long-take battle sequence that comes like a jolt of adrenaline... but that's mainly because the rest of it's rather tepid. Even though it's well-done, it's not anything especially new and refreshing.
A narrative story spanning across a few of China's historical period and cultural changes. Well-developed characters. Very real war scenes with good actions. Other than having no feel to those propaganda songs and bearing low expectation due to its low publicity, this film proved me wrong.
Most reviewers seem to miss the point of this film. I can see why the Chinese government was hesitant to release it. The film is an excellent criticism of the Chinese government past and present. ( I work and live in China; many of my students have seen this film). To understand the subtext of this movie, view the two main characters as the Chinese who are powerless and view the rest of the characters as representations of the Chinese government and society, then this film will make sense. Any film maker in China can only push it so far if they want their film to be made. The director pushed it as far as he could.
Maybe I was expecting too much, but except the sense of powerlessness, of the protagonists against the grant historical backdrop, or one's wishful thinking again class stratification. It's a bit annoying to see such a pessimistic movie at this time of a year, especially when the sentimentality is not fully unveiled, hidden by something so "red and bright"...
Good movie, unfortunately, due to censorship, even the overseas version is significantly cut, leaving too much gap between plots.
Feng Xiao Gang better works since Aftershock although I hope to see an extended version in the future
youth is the beautiful years of my years!