11 November 2012 8:11 AM, PST | The Guardian - Film News | See recent The Guardian - Film News news »

Feng Xiaogang's sledgehammer epic leaves no arm untwisted and no emotion unmilked in its bid to drive its message home

The Henan province disaster was one of the darkest eras in 20th-century Chinese history – a humanitarian crisis first sparked by drought and then compounded by a combination of windstorms, government corruption and the war with Japan. Feng Xiaogang's sledgehammer epic wants the world to know just how dark, precisely, and it leaves no arm untwisted, no emotion unmilked in its bid to drive its message home. Back to 1942, which screened as the "surprise film" at the Rome film festival, gives us history written in banner headlines and trumpeted by bugles. If it could bring itself to quieten down, it might be more successful.

Our tour guide through the inferno is stoical Fan (Zhang Guoli), a wealthy landowner in Yanjin county who loses everything and joins the caravan of refugees surging »

- Xan Brooks

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