Heroes: The Battle at Lake Changjin

Heroes: The Battle at Lake Changjin

national romance

We had prepared. We had revised the chronology of the Korean War. We were ready to point out the probable historical arrangements to satisfy the purists while ignoring some ideological biases, to forgive the too obvious concessions… All that to defend what remains of the substantial marrow of HK cinema, the furious skids of Dante Lam and especially the masterful flights of the immense Tsui Hark. In vain.

Literally commissioned by the central military commission and the Chinese propaganda department as part of the party’s 100th anniversary celebration, The Battle at Lake Changjin is almost impossible to guarantee. No need in reality to cram our history lessons: his propagandist tendencies are clear. Moreover, if it was entrusted to this fantasized trio of filmmakers, it is because the other former muse of Hong Kong cinema, Andrew Lau, was busy polishing his own praise of local authorities, Chinese Doctors. An observation that we are very happy to draw up in France, since the former Chinese journalist who dared to criticize the role arrogated by his country on social networks ended up in the post …

Mao Zedong, a nice guy, deep down

Our hopes weren’t so naive : a few months ago landed in France, under the same conditions, another Chinese mega-blockbuster rewriting history as it pleases, The Brigade of 800. Its director Guan Hu and his co-screenwriter Ge Rui, well aware of the type of spectacle they offered, did not hesitate to dwell on the ambiguities of its patriotism. We can even suppose that they made the heroic sacrifice of their characters the consequence of an absurd conflict by nature, a bit like, ultimately, the best American war films of the 1980s and 1990s.

A form of recoil repudiated from the interminable first 40 minutes of The Battle at Lake Changjincomposed largely of great, vibrant speeches, poignant military salutes given in front of the motherland bathed in eternal light, telephone preparations for payment, connected by a sticky overlay of fire music. Everything rings false and is therefore enough to eradicate the slightest emotion in favor of national pride with, as horizon line, an epilogue which one would believe written by a committee (and it is perhaps the case). Inevitably, in-between, difficult to recognize any seriousness in the clashes, yet not stingy with explosions of all kinds.

Heroes: The Battle at Lake Changjin: Photobullet train

Hark of Triumph

Disinterested in these function-characters, martyrs in the service of a cause in which it is impossible to grant the slightest confidence, we catch up with long action sequences. After all, in The Battle of Tiger MountainTsui Hark crushed the obvious political significance of his story under the weight of his aesthetic experiments, which did not stop with the reign of digital special effects, far from it.

Only here, he is accompanied by two illustrious colleagues, who we wondered if they were going to curb his creative impulses. And indeed, the battle scenes, spread over two large narrative areas, leave this tripartite approach apparent. The visions of chaos filmed on the shoulder give way from time to time to a few dry tracking shots and other rapid aerial shots, launching for teasing moviegoers a part of “who shot what?” which ranges from expert to beginner level. But in the long term, the styles devour each other, constantly on the landing of the total spectacle. The definition of frustration.

Heroes: The Battle at Lake Changjin: PhotoUS Air Low

Only a few moments of bravery, attributed by mechanical fanboyism to Tsui Hark, briefly make us forget the ideological seriousness of the thing, the time of an absurd camera movement or a surreal idea. What emerges is a crazy sequence shot which flies over a company of terrified soldiers at the same time as the planes and ends with an improbable split-screen, as well as a tank duel straight out of the wet dreams of the Hong Kong filmmakers it represents. A meager pittancegiven that the whole thing still lasts almost 3 hours.

Perhaps the instruction was to keep some firepower for the sequel, which has a better reputation in terms of action, but which one guesses is about as disembodied. Although it is hard to see the scriptwriters surpassing this very last act, where the purpose of the project is revealed in all its cruelty: the image of Americans prostrate in the face of the alleged combativeness of poor soldiers reduced to the state of lifeless statues – and without an opinion. One of the last boxes is responsible for driving the point home: “The great spirit of war is timeless”. Chilling.

Heroes: The Battle at Lake Changjin is available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD since July 27.

Heroes: The Battle at Lake Changjin: Official Poster


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