This Chinese film opens in 1948 when a bitter civil war is being fought between Communist and Nationalist forces. Captain Gu Zidi leads the 9th Company of the 139th Regiment; part of the communist People's Liberation Army and this depleted unit is ordered hold a coal mine on the far bank of the Wen River; they are not to fall back until they hear the call to assembly from the regimental bugler. They are attacked by better equipped Nationalist forces but fight bravely. After suffering heavy casualties a mortally wounded soldier claims that he heard the bugle call; Gu Zidi did not and orders them to fight on. After the battle he wakes up in a hospital; there are no signs of any other survivors. They are listed as MIA. Many suspect that Gu Zidi is actually a deserter but he is desperate to prove that he and his men did their duty. Later he serves in the Korean War before resuming his search to find evidence of his Company's actions.
I picked up this film on DVD a little while ago but didn't rush to watch it; I knew the Chinese could make great historical action films but feared a film set in their civil war might be political in a heavy handed way... need not have worried. Protagonist Gu Zidi may be a soldier in the PLA but the film doesn't dwell on the reasons for the war; he is just a soldier fighting bravely for his side. In many ways this is unusual for a war film; the most intense action all takes place in the first half of the film. This is intense and puts the viewer in the thick of it with kinetic camera work capturing the confusion of battle. The latter portions of the film are centred on Gu Zidi's seemingly futile attempts to give his fallen comrades the respect they deserve. The cast does an impressive job, most obviously Zhang Hanyu, who as Gu Zidi, is rarely off screen. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to fans of the war genre looking for something a little different set in a modern war which features in few films.
These comments are based on watching the film in Mandarin with English subtitles.
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