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On The Mountain of Tai Hang (CHINA 2005)

Director : Wei Lang, Shen Dong, Chen Jian
Cast : Zhang Lin, Alan Lau Tak Hoi, Wang Wu-Fu, Liu De-Kay, Tony Leung Ka-Fai

Set during the first three years of the Sino-Chinese war (1938-41), On The Mountain of Tai Hang tells the story of three separate groups of Chinese forces who managed to work together to defend a vulnerable Chinese province from a large Japanese Army. The film follows Commander-in-Chief Zhu De and his troops as they risk their lives to defend their country and how different classes of Chinese managed to unite for one common cause.

by Martin Cleary

At its best On The Mountain of Tai Hang is an epic war film depicting the Chinese Red Army’s military defence of the Shanxi province of Tai Hang against Japanese invasion. The film’s battle scenes are truly impressive as what appears to be thousands of troops fight over a massive mountainous area. There’s some pretty good CG camera shot’s allowing the camera to fly through the air, through the cockpit of a plane and out of the otherside, as well as assisting in showing bodies being blown to bits through the air. Some of it is pretty gruesome – but of course this is a war film.

The historical story is interesting as the splintered Chinese troops cover the valley and require assistance and back-up from one another against the superior war-power of the invading Japanese armies. At it’s worst On The Mountain of Tai Hang is a piece of Communist propaganda, flaunting it’s patriotic rhetoric and providing nothing but a negative portrayal of the Japanese. This in it’s self is of course nothing new or surprising for a war film. It’s not like Hollywood films about war always give a balanced view of both sides – they don’t – and there’s always a lot of Patriotic flag flying in those too. Where OTMOTH verges on overstepping the mark is in its complete and total insistence on preaching the ideas of Chairman Mao who is invoked constantly. This is not surprising as the troops are inspired and pushed on by Mao’s ideas, but the need to quote and underline the fact at every opportunity slows the film down and makes it blander than it could have been. It’s no surprise that the film was financed by the People’s Liberation Army. As it stands, OTMOTH is neither a classic nor a terrible film.

Unfortunately the balance between the films politics, plot and historical focus is so out of balance that it makes it difficult to become involved in the story. The central character who narrates and moves the story forward is Commander In Chief Zhu, a man who manages to convince every other General and soldier that his way is correct by quoting Mao’s words and ideas. This is fine, except us as the viewer do not need to hear this over and over again. The film manages to swing wildly in different directions regarding its visual techniques, and style and although I suspect this is not intentional – possibly due to the films’ three separate directors – it actually works well for the film.

The result is that the ‘speech’ scenes seem all the more slow and plodding, while the action is energetic and unpredictable. The only actor in the film that I recognized was Tony Leung Ka-fai (from Prison On Fire). This is more of a cameo role than anything, in what was for me the most surprising scene of the film, as I thought it was going to turn into a kung-fu movie! Tony Leung plays a one-armed general who – in true Jimmy Wang-Yu ‘One-Armed Boxer’ style – explodes on the battlefield with what appears to be a broadsword and takes out half of the army single-handedly. Literally! For all of it’s bad points (being overlong and preachy), OTMOTH is certainly watchable and not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. The battle scenes were better than I was expecting and the sweeping cinematography over the battlefield is certainly impressive, but it’s in no way great which is a shame as it certainly has the budget and cast to have been something more.

Plot : 3/5
Acting : 3/5
Entertainment : 3/5
Overall : 3/5

Notable Scenes
- The first large-scale battle begins
- The soldiers run out of bullets and use their bayonets
- Tony Leung’s battlefield scene

Buy this movie at YesAsia – On The Mountain of Tai Hang

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