Reviewed by: STSH
Summary: Sweeping war epic
Largely agree with the review on the link. I found that the switching between the wider view and that of (mainly) the trials of one family was a useful plot device. At over 2 and 1/2 hours with many characters, it would have been easy to get lost, but the frequent switch back to the landlord's family kept things on track. Never did the story flag or lose focus, and it didn't feel like a long movie at all.
Reviewer Score: 8
Even though the subject matter is necessarily grim, there is no shortage of humour and light touches, though many of course tend to gallows humour and the ironic.
One fault was particularly annoying. Much of the action took place during snowstorms. White subtitles on a white background are a fact of life with Chinese movies, and this blockout irritation was present for about a fifth of the movie. Even worse, the problem never occured when English was being spoken.
Tim Robbins' performance was remarkably bad. His accent came out as something like Polish, though his character appeared to have been Irish !
And if you love cats, a warning : there is one very unsettling scene.
The movie covers a lot of ground, so clearly much of the story had to be trimmed. However, leaving Mao out of the story was quite puzzling. Also, given that the government in Beijing was a major backer, the sympathetic treatment of Chiang Kai-Shek is doubly puzzling. Apart from one scene where he floats the idea of abandoning the starving refugees of Henan to the invading Japanese, he is portrayed as a saviour of the people, notwithstanding all of his well-documented faults (including focussing much of the war effort on fighting the communists and leaving the Japanese for later on).
Also, though the Japanese are clearly villains here, they are shown to have touches of humanity, even if same are explained away as being for pragmatic reasons.
Overall, this is certainly not a date movie. But it is an important movie, well-made, easy to understand, and very watchable.