Directed by: Guan Hu
Screenplay: Guan Hu and Ge Rui
Starring: Zhi-zhong Huang, Zhang Junyi, Hao Ou
Duration: 142 min
BBFC Certification: 15
The Eight Hundred has already made such an impact in the world of cinema. Not only is it the highest-grossing movie of 2020, earning a whopping $473 million worldwide, it is also the first time ever that a film of it’s status has not been the big Hollywood feature that the majority of us know of. It is pretty strange to wonder how its success came to light considering the fact that we are living through a global pandemic where cinema screens around the world are closed. However, China apparently had more theatres open than any other place on the map, and if I am honest, viewing a movie such as The Eight Hundred will really make you miss the cinema experience even more.
The movie is based on a true story set during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Shanghai, when it has been three months since Japan has invaded China. As the invasion starts to become extremely overwhelming, Over 400 Chinese soldiers retreat to a central warehouse where they are forced to hold their ground within and defend the city at any cost. However, the Japanese army is led to believe that there are actually 800. Over the next four days and four nights, one of the most intense battles starts to unfold.
From the get-go, the very first thing that will strike every single viewer about The Eight Hundred is how absolutely astonishing it looks. Many a movie will be discussed with the line “You need to see it on the big screen.” No joke, I really hope that someday I can see this on the biggest screen imaginable. Another accomplishment added to the curriculum vitae of The Eight Hundred is that it is the first Chinese movie to be shot entirely on IMAX. There is this unique visual aesthetic that I honestly have never seen in a movie before. It is quite hard to describe fully, but it is almost as if this is what video games are going to look like in a few years. I hope that saying this will not make the movie sound unappealing in a way, because it absolutely should not, it is just a quality that you have to see for yourself. Every frame, moment of action, just explodes with such massive scale and scope.
One of the most interesting aspects of the story is that right across from the warehouse on the opposite side of the Suzhou creek is what seems to be civilization pretty much thriving in normal life. Bars, casinos, children playing, high-end fashion, news reporters. All of this life exists right through the battle, untouched, almost as a morale boost for their brothers at war. The shots of this settlement, especially at night with all the neon lights bouncing off of the creek are easily some of my favourite visual moments throughout the entire movie.
In ways, this is a pretty difficult thing to be critical over given the general story at hand. But what The Eight Hundred does not truly nail is empathy for the massive number of characters we meet throughout. Yes, we do have scenes of pure heart and passion that are excellent. But considering the runtime is just shy of 2 hours and 30 minutes, during all that time character development is not really in place. I just didn’t really get the opportunity to latch onto a certain character telling the story through their eyes, which personally I would have preferred within. It still has so much to offer though in so many other areas.
The Eight Hundred is such an amazing story of history, and the movie itself has already created its own from all of its achievements. The performances are fantastic, even though I wished that I could have connected a bit more with a character’s story arc. As a piece of filmmaking, however, it is a sight to behold, and I would easily hold it up there as one of the best-looking war movies that I have ever seen.
Cine Asia will release The Eight Hundred on DVD from the 22nd of March, and limited edition Blu-Ray & Digital from the 12th of April.