A battalion of producers and stars worked the opening night red carpet of the Beijiing Intl. Film Festival Tuesday for the world premiere of their mammoth Chinese war film “The Battle of Changjin Lake,” which is expected to rank amongst China’s highest grossing films of the year.
The nearly three-hour-long historical epic is a grind through the blood, sweat and tears of the real-life People’s Volunteer Army as they fight against all odds to defeat the U.S. army at the titular lake during the Korean War. The conflict (1950-1953) is formally known in China as the “War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea.”
Producer and Bona Film Group president Yu Dong said before the screening that the movie has been “meticulously crafted into a masterpiece that can be included in the annals of Chinese film history,” thanks to five years of script development, 200 days of shoots and the involvement of as many as 7,000 crew members and 70,000 extras.
“‘The Battle at Lake Changjin’ is not just an [index of how] the industrialization of Chinese film has been pushed to a new high, but more of how we can calmly take on large-scale production and investment equivalent to A-list Hollywood movies,” he said. “This is thanks to the courage of Chinese filmmakers, and, even more so, the huge confidence in the Chinese film market.”
He emphasized that the bloody spectacle about killing Americans is a “film that celebrates life — a story of how young warriors are willing to risk it all to protect our homes and defend our country.”
It has sold $4 million so far in pre-sale tickets as of Tuesday evening (RMB26 million), and will hit theaters nationwide on Sept. 30 in time for the important week-long National Day holiday that begins Oct. 1. Local media report that Alibaba’s big data marketing platform Beacon has initially predicted that the film could gross more than $464 million (RMB3 billion), and other optimistic estimates have since ticked even further upwards.
While the Beijing Intl. Film Festival — which runs this year in-person from Sept. 21-29 — provided a glitzy backdrop for the film featuring China’s many of most recognizable and bankable talents, their comments to the press were far from what one might hear on an Oscar or Emmy ceremony red carpet.
Fifth Generation director Chen is best known abroad for his 1993 Palme d’Or winning drama “Farewell My Concubine,” the first Chinese film to win that prize. For “Battle,” however, he is taking a much more patriotic tone.
“This battle victory is of great significance: Our China, with its poor and weak national power, had to face down the world’s most powerful military, but as Chairman Mao said, ‘the Chinese people are now organized and are not to be trifled with,’” he said, citing a line from Mao Zedong frequently quoted by President Xi Jinping when discussing the Korean War’s ongoing 70th anniversary.
He continued: “In this war, we paid many sacrifices, but eventually earned victory and respect…The film shows us how without this strength of spirit, there would have been no way to take on such an enemy.”
Dante Lam said that he came to have a deep respect for the troops during the production process and hope that “everyone can remember their sacrifices” while watching the final product.
Director Tsui Hark also quoted Mao. After extensively researching the history of the Korean War, he found himself most moved by one of the controversial leader’s eight-character phrases: “strike one punch to avoid a hundred punches.”
He explained: “The quote really touched me. I decided then that my task would be to depict the truth of this quote for everyone to grasp. It seemed like the core of the entire film — that spirit of I don’t want to fight, but still, I must fight.”