Historical war film ‘The War of Loong’ reflects China’s changing mind-set

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/4 17:23:39

Promotional material for The War of Loong Photo: Courtesy of film site 1905

Films are a reflection of society, its people and the beliefs of the time. If you want to get a glimpse into the mind-set of Chinese today, it would be worth your time to take a look at the films that are coming to the big screen.

Following God of War and Battle of Xiangjiang River in July, another war film The War of Loong is about to hit cinemas in August. These are just three of the war movies looking to entice Chinese audiences into theaters over the coming months.  

Increased confidence

The War of Loong tells a story that is very similar to South Korean war drama Roaring Currents (2014). Focusing on the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) historic figure General Feng Zicai, the film follows the aging general as he leads a ragtag army of soldiers to victory against the much better armed French army during the Battle of Zhennan Pass in 1885. The battle was one of the imperial Qing court's few victories in the late 19th century against foreign invaders.

While historical dramas are very common in China, how Feng and the battle is portrayed in the film is reflective of a more mature film industry and a rising confidence in Chinese culture, according to several scholars.

At a forum about the film held on Thursday in Beijing, professor Tan Xiaoming from the now defunct People's Liberation Army Academy of Arts said that in the past mainstream historical works had to adhere to the concepts of evolutionism and historical inevitability - the idea that those who lag behind will be defeated. However, the Chinese army in the film The War of Loong had far less advanced weaponry than their enemies, yet were still able to achieve a victory.

"One possible reason that such a film could be made today is that it resonates with the social psychology of the times," Tan said, noting how the film focuses on the important role Feng's leadership played in achieving victory. 

"We can feel the desire for team leaders in today's society. There would be no Alibaba without Jack Ma Yun, we all agree about that. We also want to see such a charming leader portrayed in a Chinese story," Tan explained. 

Agreeing with Tan, Yin Hong, a professor at Tsinghua University, added that earlier films often depicted stories in which the characters could never win, no matter how hard they fought, without the help of the Communist Party of China "in order to prove that the path of the revolutionary is the only one."

"But it's a different time now and there is no need to prove that anymore," Yin said. "Therefore the film acts as a warning by focusing on the corruption of the Qing court on one hand, while on the other hand it inspires people by depicting a story showing that the weak can overcome the strong."

"Today's China, with its rising economic position and increasing political influence, is eager to build cultural confidence," Suo Yabin, a professor at the Communication University of China, said at the forum. He noted that the fact that the film admits to China's faults and that it was lagging behind at the time shows that today's Chinese have the confidence to face the country's current insufficiencies. 

Mainstream enthusiasm

With summer being one of the busiest seasons for films in China, cinemas are usually jampacked with domestic films around this time of the year. This year, however, will see a large number of war films coming in to compete against the usual romance, comedies and other films that normally enter theaters during the summer.

Alongside The War of Loong, star-studded blockbuster The Founding of an Army is coming to theaters on July 28 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army on August 1.

Also on July 28, modern military action flick Wolf Warriors II will roar its way into mainland theaters.

"This might be because [action blockbuster] Operation Mekong was such a surprising hit last year," a report from the National Business Daily wrote, noting that recent years have seen a number of military action films find success in the market, such as Dante Lam's Operation Mekong (1.18 billion yuan) and Tsui Hark's The Taking of Tiger Mountain (880 million yuan).

Promotional material for Wolf Warriors II Photo: IC


Newspaper headline: Finger on the pulse


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