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War feasts upon death. Its greedy appetite carries away many a life on the battlefield, and soldiers must be ready to die at any time. Yet all these sacrifices can be given meaning and reason with honor. A weathered witness of war's insatiable appetite, Guzidi, Captain of the Ninth Company, will struggle his entire life to return honor to his forty six men and their self-sacrifice. The year 1948 witnessed the launching of the Huaihai Campaign during the Chinese Civil War. In one of Chinese history's deadliest battles, thousands from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Nationalist Army (KMT) fell in the battle that took place between Xuzhou and Bengdu. It was amid this bloody fight that Captain Guzidi led the Ninth Company infantry unit on a sniper mission. His orders were to fight the KMT Army until the retreat assembly call was sounded. Yet, after many long hours of painstaking resistance, Gu watched powerless as the ammunition ran out and the scant ranks of the Ninth Company ... Written by
The film was a major box office success in mainland China. See more »
When Gu Zidi stands on the watchtower, his position changes between the highest and the second highest level of the watchtower. This is clearly visible since the highest level has no diagonal beams. See more »
A gripping Chinese war film, by turns brutal, moving and provocative
Assembly is a gripping film about the Chinese civil war and its aftermath, recounted through the story of a doomed company of Communist soldiers and the subsequent struggle of their commander, Gu Zidi, to win recognition for their sacrifice. Hanyu Zhang is superb in the role of Gu Zidi, carrying the memory of his lost and forgotten comrades, and is the focus for a film that is by turns brutal, moving and provocative.
The opening battle scene is Assembly is startlingly violent and throughout the film the portrayal of modern weaponry and its effect upon human bodies is truly frightening. The battles are impressively staged and meticulously detailed, from the soldiers' uniforms to the networks of defensive trenches. There are some eye-opening details about the nature of warfare in the Chinese civil war, including the deployment of 'political officers' to encourage Communist troops to act in line with Party doctrine.
Admittedly, much of the film's appeal stems from its foreign origins. The Chinese civil war and the subsequent war in Korea are not often portrayed in the cinema, and it is even more rare to get a Chinese perspective on these events. Certainly this makes it difficult to find a point of reference by which to assess the success of Assembly. Nevertheless, I did have some reservations, including the camera-work. The battle scenes cut frantically between different shots, unlike, for instance, the opening scenes in Saving Private Ryan, where the action relentlessly tracks the soldiers' landing on the D-Day beach. This repeated cutting and changing conveys some sense of the chaos of warfare, but I feel that the shaky camera-work was overplayed and found this a bit irksome after the first few battle scenes.
A more general problem is that this film focuses almost exclusively on the actions of the Communist soldiers. It would have been interesting to learn more about the Nationalist Guomindang soldiers, but they are barely afforded any speaking roles. Although Assembly is written from the perspective of the winning side, it does not begin to examine why the Communists were at one time so short of munitions and especially men in fighting the war against the Nationalists. The story of Gu Zidi's company of men is a battle against the odds, but the film does not delve into the root causes of their desperation.
But although Assembly is a portrait of one side in a long military conflict there is surprising depth to this portrait. The film does not follow a straightforward triumphalist narrative about Communist war heroes, but instead builds a complex tale of an individual (Gu Zidi) who struggles for the posthumous recognition of individual soldiers who made an individual sacrifice. These were soldiers who were scared and sometimes balked at the dangers before them as would anyone but they made the ultimate sacrifice and Gu Zidi strives to have their efforts recognised as a unique contribution to the war effort. That it is such a great struggle for Gu Zidi to secure a memorial for these fallen comrades is at least partly an indictment of post-war society and government in China.
Assembly achieves a remarkable amount in less than two hours. It is a vivid reconstruction of struggles during and after the war and is moreover a deeply moving experience, especially in its final frames. And if part of the appeal lies in the fact that this is a foreign film about a little-known war, then that is all the more reason to seek it out.
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