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War blockbuster earns highest acclaim among holiday films

By XU FAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-10-03 07:13

Director Chen Kaige presents a bouquet to a veteran of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53) at the premiere of Chen's movie The Volunteers: To the War, in Beijing on Thursday. ZHANG JINGTAO/FOR CHINA DAILY

With its epic scope in retelling the story of a war more than seven decades ago that was pivotal to New China, The Volunteers: To the War has become one of the country's most popular films during the Mid-Autumn and National Day holidays.

As of Monday, the movie had earned 9.6 out of 10 points, and 9.7 points, respectively, on the country's two largest ticketing platforms, Taopiaopiao and Maoyan. That was higher than the 11 other new movies competing during the eight-day holiday period.

The movie, which is the latest from award-winning director Chen Kaige, is the first chapter of a planned trilogy that aims to panoramically chronicle how the Chinese People's Volunteers force was sent to the battlefields of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53).

Spanning around 140 minutes, the first installment of the series takes on a grand scale as it revisits the year 1950. The film unfolds through multiple plotlines, ranging from the Chinese leaders making tough decisions to send the troops under the threat of the United States, to ordinary soldiers sacrificing their lives in several tide-turning battles.

It also depicts how the People's Republic of China's first group of diplomats attended a United Nations Security Council meeting in November 1950. In the movie, the delegation's head, Wu Xiuquan, played by actor Zhang Songwen, delivers a long and powerful speech denouncing US aggression and intervention.

Chen, one of the most revered figures of China's "fifth-generation directors", said during an earlier interview that the trilogy contains over 200 key characters and was shot in around 13 months.

"There have been several highly acclaimed and successful movies about the war in recent years," Chen said. "Therefore, what will set this trilogy apart is its grander scale and its ability to intricately connect the destinies of individuals with the historical events, which will resonate strongly with audiences."

Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Association, said that the military genre has experienced impressive development in China, exemplified by the Decisive Engagement franchise, which chronicles China's liberation war from 1945 to 1949, as well as the blockbuster The Sacrifice and The Battle at Lake Changjin series, both based on the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.

The rise of the Chinese film industry and its special effects production laid the foundation for The Volunteers: To the War to be more realistic, bringing to life the fierce battles amid the harsh conditions of that time, Rao added, and as a result the movie is capable of leaving an imprint on the history of Chinese cinema.

Shi Peifang of Beijing listed the movie as her favorite National Day holiday film, saying she was quite moved to watch the portrayal of young Chinese soldiers fighting until the last breath to safeguard the security of the newly founded People's Republic of China.

She also said the movie is like a history class, as it helped her understand more clearly why China had to be involved in the war. This was due to the complicated tensions at the time, caused by the US sending its Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait and US planes repeatedly bombing areas near China's northeast border after the war broke out.

Currently, the movie has obtained 7.3 points out of 10 on the popular review aggregator Douban, the highest rating of all new holiday movies, including director Zhang Yimou's crime film Under the Light and actor Han Geng's romance sequel The Ex-Files 4: Marriage Plan.

A twist-studded tale exposing the downfall of a corrupt deputy mayor and his decadeslong collusion with a business tycoon, Under the Light has raked in 560 million yuan ($76.8 million) to top the country's box office charts during the holidays as of 8 pm on Monday, followed by The Ex-Files 4 at 460 million yuan, according to the movie information tracker Beacon.

The Volunteers: To the War has grossed 313 million yuan, ranking third, while Moscow Mission, a crime thriller based on the Trans-Siberian train robberies of 1993 and starring Andy Lau, has earned 215 million yuan to become the fourth-highest-grossing holiday movie.

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