Chinese movie depicts couple’s patriotic 32-year guardianship of nation’s islet
Standing watch
Published: Jul 11, 2021 06:13 PM
Promotional material for <em>Island Keeper</em> 
Photos: Courtesy of Huaxia Film

Promotional material for Island Keeper Photo: Courtesy of Huaxia Film

Promotional material for <em>Island Keeper</em> 
Photos: Courtesy of Huaxia Film

Promotional material for Island Keeper Photo: Courtesy of Huaxia Film

For more than 30 years a husband and wife team guarded a tiny island in the Yellow Sea. Every day, they raised the Chinese national flag high in the sky no matter what the weather is to demonstrate China's sovereignty.

After 32 years, the husband has passed away, but his wife still lives on the islet, accompanying trees planted by her husband and continuing to guard their motherland to keep her promise to her husband: "You guard the island and I guard you."

Their story was revealed to moviegoers on June 18 in the film Island Keeper, which has earned good word of mouth from teary-eyed audiences on Chinese media review platforms.

Based on a true story, Island Keeper tells the story of Wang Jicai (played by Liu Ye), head of a militia post on Kaishan Island in East China's Jiangsu Province, and his wife Wang Shihua (played by Gong Zhe) as they stand guard on an island only the size of two soccer fields for over three decades. They were the islet's only residents.

"They devoted their entire lives to completing this one thing," the film's director, Chen Li, concluded the couple's spirit of utter devotion and told the Global Times on Wednesday when attending a sharing session.

"They are both people like those living among us, who can be touched when we stretched out our hands, but we can still see their greatness."

Their story 

The film depicts the most important moments from the couple's time on the islet, showing the dramatic conflicted choices they had to make, including the decision on whether they should stay on the island.

The stories in the film are based on Wangs' real experiences, such as their hesitation when first starting out living on the island, bravely rescuing young drowning swimmers, cracking down on smugglers and spending Spring Festival with their family together on the island.

According to audience reviews, one of the most impressive parts of the film is when the wife gives birth to their second child on the island. Originally meant to travel to the mainland to have the child, she gets trapped by a storm as the baby is on its way.

Helpless and on their own, the two have to deliver the baby by themselves under the guidence of a doctor by phone. The husband rushes into the storm and darkness to pray for the safety of his wife and son, touching many moviegoers.

Other scenes show the two struggling against the harsh natural environment out at sea and how they insist on raising the Chinese national flag even while being soaked to the bone by rainstorms. 

Wang Jicai once told media that only when the national flag is hoisted high can it show that Kaishan Island is part of China's territory and that when fishermen return from the sea, they know they are home when they see the national flag.

These stories reveal the deep connection between the husband and the wife, parents and son, and comrade-in-arms to audiences and also show the rich inner world of the Wangs and their patriotic feelings toward their motherland.

Wang first stepped onto the island in 1986. Accompanied by his wife, he persisted for 32 years until he died of a sudden illness in 2018 at 58 years old.

Behind the scenes

The director and Gong talked about their feelings producing the movie with the Global Times on Wednesday, saying that the experience let them deeply understand the couple's spirit and their moving romantic relationship.

In 2018, after the husband's death, Chen made a special trip to Kaishan Island to learn more about Wang and his wife. She recalled that she made the trip by boat in rainy and snowy weather and saw a vague figure shrouded in fog waving at her - that figure was Wang Shihua.

Wang held Chen's hand tightly as she helped the director come ashore. Chen was deeply touched as she could imagine the couple's hard life on the island and their persistence through the feeling of Wang's rough hand. The two did not let go for a long time.

Since Kaishan Island has been converted into a base for patriotic education, the production crew had to build a 1:1 recreation of the couple's original home on an island in Pingtan county, East China's Fujian Province, in an effort to ensure the film could be as close to reality as possible.

According to Chen, the scenes in which Liu, as Wang, climbed a tower during a rainstorm were all shot in real time in order to faithfully restore the harsh natural conditions and the insistence of the defenders of the island.

Gong told the Global Times that she felt very happy and warmed by her time playing Wang Shihua and that filming the role helped her grow as a person. 

Audiences have shared their feelings about the film on review platforms, calling the movie a "meaningful patriotic work." 

Some young people said they were shocked by how violent the storms and giant waves in the movie were and some female audience members said they were touched by the couple's deep love.