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Tony Chiu Wai Leung,
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One of the most relentless and grim war movies ever made
This 1990 Taiwanese production, which stars several leading Hong Kong actors such as Andy Lau and Chun Hsiang Ko, is one of the most relentless and grim war movies ever made. Set in the 50's, it tracks the journey of a ragtag bunch of Taiwanese soldiers and their families fleeing the communist occupiers along the Burmese border. Facing starvation, hostile weather, betrayal in their own ranks, constant thirst and injury, they pull together to forge a semblance of a life, but renewed conflict is always right around the corner. And it is this constant specter of war that casts an unbelievably dark pall over this memorable film.
The battle scenes run the gamut from small scale to grand and the staging is reminiscent of Woo's "Bullet in the Head" and Kubrick's "Paths of Glory". Between the numerous scenes of bloody conflict, there is a firm focus on the characters' personal stories and a further emphasis on the way family life is destroyed by war. There are rare passages of touching emotional beauty and much commentary on the fragility of happiness, but these detours always give way to conflict.
Ricky Ho's musical score is grand, sad, operatic and ultra-romantic, and plays as much a part in the film's effectiveness as the cinematography and powerful performances.
A couple of stanzas are handicapped by a misguided use of sped up footage, but these barely impact on the whole.
Because the film is so downbeat and filled with death and destruction from beginning to end, it will alienate many viewers who want some light in their darkness. But if you are prepared to take a heroic journey into hell, track this title down. You won't be disappointed or question its absolute sincerity as a celebration of one nation's courage.
An obscure cinematic treasure.
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