15:00 - 7th March 2015, by Calum Waddell

Back to 1942

This epic historical drama from director Feng Xiaogang (The Banquet / Assembly) boasts the director’s usual attention to period detail and lavish multi-character storytelling. Moreover, Back to 1942’s detailing of the famine that befell Henan province in China during the World War II, is often gut-wrenching and difficult to watch. With groups of starving, dying people forced from their homes and battling Japanese bomber planes, freezing cold temperatures, bullets, theft and more, very little time passes without gruelling depictions of the era. The disturbing visuals of hunger and desperation, as well as one unforgettably grim scene of wild dogs eating a deceased man’s innards, feels a little (whisper it) as if Xiaogang may also be channelling the future result of Mao Zedong’s murderous Great Leap Forward. This factor aside, however, and the blame for the Henan horror is pointed squarely at the Japanese army and the nationalists who live in prosperity during a time of mass turmoil. A final credit nods towards the creation of Taiwan but, in general, and with this being a Chinese production, there is not much historical discussion of the civil war that took place alongside the Japanese invasion. Certainly, Chiang Kai Shek – the founder of modern Taiwan and a dictator in his own right – is not shown in an especially positive light. Without Mao and his army for comparison, though, such straightforward black and white characterisation is lacklustre. On the plus side, American superstar Adrian Brody plays an expat journalist and shows that, after a number of career disasters, he is still capable of pulling out a solid performance.

A film that demands to be seen – but, as with many recent Chinese-produced epics, the story being offered all too often dehumanises the country’s historical enemies (in this case Japan and Taiwan)…
SCORE: 3.5/5
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