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Assembly  rating

Review: written 2008

Private Ryan goes to China..?


A movie in two halves, this Chinese film does a nifty job of both emulating the style that made Ryan such a hit, and providing enough of a soul to go along with it to be interesting on its own merit.

Based on a novel, which itself was based on a true story, the movie is set in the late 40's during the Chinese Civil War and goes on into the following decade. The first half sees the Captain ordered with his company into a desolate war zone in 1948, to hold and fight to the last man until he hears the bugle cry of assembly. It never comes... scenes of carnage in greyed out colours in very shaky camerawork (as patented by Spielberg) ensue... all fairly effectively done. However, it is in the second half, that the film finds its heart.. The Captain, now scarred both physically and emotionally, realizes his company are listed as missing, affording them no honour, and so he makes it his goal to find proof of their story and restore their name.

It is surprising to see a movie like this, after a decade or more of brightly coloured highly choreographed wushu epics made China more of an international movie force. This is quite the opposite, with its realism, grim tone and very human heart. In taking so many cues from Western films like Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, there is perhaps an element of disappointment in what at first seem to be a lack of originality. In fact, during some of the battle scenes the shaky camera work just seems a fraction too much, as if they have not quite developed the skill set yet. The script and the music both feel almost self-consciously Western in origin. In addition, while the journey in the latter half to redemption is effective, the time and location shifts are clunky in places and serve to distract rather than build development of the story.

Having said that, this is a uniquely Chinese story, during a period of history that is close to Chinese hearts, and why not tell it? The latter half, the all-important journey to redemption, is handled deftly, and the end result should move even the toughest hearts just a little, with themes of honour, loyalty and brotherhood unhindered by jingoism or propaganda.

A recommended watch then, and yet more signs that China is showing no end to its high quality movie output.

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