27 July 2014 | oOgiandujaOo_and_Eddy_Merckx
This film concerns eight criminal prisoners of the Chinese 8th Army and one unjustly accused commander, also imprisoned; the prologue to the film leaves no doubt as towards the culpability of the eight and the innocence of the one. The nine accompany the army as it is harried by the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Zhang Yimou gets an early credit as cinematographer. It's the earliest Chinese war film I've seen where the characters aren't flagrant personifications of revolutionary values. It has pleasant concessions to humanity whilst still banging the propaganda drum (only to the same extent as The Green Berets). Whilst it is propaganda, I'm in no doubt that there was heroic defence against Japanese aggression at the time.
There is to an extent a disconnect between some particularly exorbitant cinematography (you could freeze many great still photos from the film), and a story that doesn't really flow and feels like it has too many gaps. There is however genuine pathos in the movie and the journey the men go on is compelling. The source text is trying to point out that the exemplary acts of one individual can knock onto the rest, although its seeming conviction that innocence is self-evident and will always out could be seen as an obnoxious repudiation of many innocent dead from this period. Would bear interesting comparison to Aldrich's Dirty Dozen in terms of archetype.