Linda Cook review: ‘The Eight Hundred’ is historic spectacle

Movies

‘The Eight Hundred’ is based on a true war incident in 1937.

A Chinese blockbuster full of spectacle and the brutality of war has made its way to American audiences.

Screenwriter/director Guan Hu has created the kind of film that engages the audience with every detail and each beautifully wrought shot.

This historical account is about the Chinese Nationalist Army’s defense of a warehouse in October 1937 during the Sino-Japanese War. The soldiers were expected to lose their lives holding down the Sihang Warehouse, a six-story building attacked by the Japanese Third Division of the Imperial Army.

The men, who knew they were fighting a losing battle, stood their ground for four days. The warehouse is across from a beautiful, active area where the wealthy gamble, dine and watch the battle almost as if it were a show. The two areas are divided by a river, and a bridge between them contains much of the action.

The characters we get to know are many, including brave soldiers, terrified soldiers and very young soldiers. They discuss the philosophy of war, of why they need to die or why they feel battle is unnecessary. We watch them stand for their country amid the gore-soaked horror of war, with action filmed up close, with amazing aerial shots, and inside various environments that dazzle the eyes. In one especially compelling scene, the men head toward their deaths after shouting their names and sometimes apologizing to their parents.

The film was released in mainland China on Aug. 21, and has since grossed at least $165 million, not a bad payoff for a project with an $80 million price tag.  

This isn’t an easy movie to watch because of the blood and scenes of death. If you’re used to a “PG-13” version of battle, this isn’t the movie for you.

But if you want to see realistic sequences, and a part of history with which you may not be familiar, you’ll want to take in the spectacle of Hu’s direction and a film that’s an epic in the truest sense of the word.

3 ½ out of 4 stars

Running time: 2 ½ hours.

Rated: I’m not sure whether this is rated, but if it is, it should be an “R”-rated film because of its gore, nudity and adult themes.

In Chinese, Japanese and English, with subtitles.

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