Isn’t it a shame, that a journalist from a famous British press failed to acknowledge its own country’s major representation in an international film and its role in WWII?
While the current average rating for The Eight Hundred is about three stars in English-language media, Kevin Maher’s precious one star comes as a shock. If we leave out the ‘patriotic’ argument which most established journalists seem to be obsessed with, the quality of the film certainly deserves three stars. In particular, while British film talents have also contributed to the film’s visual effects (DNEG), soundtrack composition (Rupert Gregson-Williams) and many other areas.
Mr Maher is troubled by a war film being “jingoistic”. This particular war (the Second Sino-Japanese War) featured in The Eight Hundred is one of the deadliest wars in modern history. As Professor Rana Mitter from the University of Oxford explains in a recent podcast, “during those eight years (1937 – 1945) of the invasion by Japan in China, the war led to over 10 million deaths. 80 – 90 million Chinese became refugees in their own country.” As for Mr Maher’s question, “How vicious? They slowly disembowel and dismember their Chinese prisoners, before sticking them on poles”, there are plenty of well-researched books and photographs in evidence that capture this repeated scene throughout those eight years. Some resources are held at your National Archives.
In his very short one-star review on a two-and-a-half-hour film, the greatest pity is that Mr Maher completely ignored the part which Britain played in both the story and the real historical event. British soldiers are present regularly throughout the film, driving the story to develop. Towards the end, they even become involved in the last battle in a very interesting way. Isn’t the journalist’s job to inform the readers of something that they don’t already know? Isn’t a film critic’s job to reveal things that are not obvious but worth paying attention to? Finally, film criticism shares the same responsibility of journalism. The skill which is urgently required is for the writer to find an angle to connect the topic she writes about with the logic of thinking that can be made connection with by the readers. A writer or journalist’s job is to connect readers with the topic that they write about, in my view, rather than to separate them from it.
“And it includes a bare-faced Iwo Jima rip-off, where Chinese troops raise the glorious Chinese flag, despite being blasted to pieces by the Japanese”. This is a very clumsy comment by Mr Maher, too. To phrase it correctly, that particular flag is the flag of the Republic of China. This is also what caused the controversy for the film to be pulled off from the Shanghai International Film Festival last year. A successful release and a box-office can be seen as a miracle within that context. It appears as Mr Maher lacks knowledge about the difference between the two governments or how the current Chinese flag looks. Or if he does, perhaps his passion for the “jingoistic” argument overtook his responsibility in informing the public as a journalist.
Indeed, Mr Maher has succeeded in revealing one very obvious point. The Eight Hundred is a war film, therefore naturally it is “jingoistic” within the narrative. Maher did, however, miss out those very coward characters who refuse to kill and fight, and those elites who refuse to care about the battle. The “jingoistic” tone, within the film and during the real event, was an act to wake up those who didn’t care. This was confirmed by the story as it unfolds, later on, the director himself, and plenty of history books that recorded this battle.
After all, The Eight Hundred is a film with many subtleties that might need a second viewing to appreciate. Kevin, would you like to go and watch it again together, so that we can have a proper debate? It’s on me.