Written by: Dieter Waumans on December 15th, 2006
Theatrical Release Dates: China, 1958
Film Studio: August First Film Studio (Bayi Dianying Zhipian Chang)
Director: Shi Wenzhi
Writers: Sun Futian, Xing Ye, Gu Yan
Cast: Li Changhua, Gao Baocheng, Huo Daji, Zhang Huaizhi, Li Li, Shu Youlin, Wang Mo
DVD Distributor: Triple-Ring Audio-Visual Corporation China
DVD Release Date: January 6th 2005
Region Coding: R0 NTSC (China)
Audio: Mandarin (Dolby Digital 5.1 and MPEG1)
Subtitles: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English
Discs: 1 x DVD5
Features: Chapter selection (6 chapters)
Five Heroes On Langya Mountain is a patriotic propaganda movie based on a true story well known in China. In 1941, during the Sino-Japanese war, a group of five Communist soldiers were able to deceive the advancing Japanese army and drew them up to the slopes of Langya Mountain. The Japanese, thinking they were besieging the main army, lost valuable time and troops trying to eliminate them. When the Five Heroes ran out of bullets, they jumped off the cliffs. Three of them died but two could hang by a tree branch, survived and could recount the story. In the mean time, the Chinese main force could escape and regroup. It became a legend and served as patriotic brain-food for school children. More information can be found on the website of the Chinese military Deflavoring might be necessary.
The story follows the Five Heroes legend for a great deal. A few propagandistic elements have been thrown in to make it all a bit more convincing. As such, there should be no doubt whatsoever that all brilliant ideas conceived by the Communist soldiers are directly derived from the writings of Mao. The Japanese are shown as savage animals, but in contrast with other propaganda movies (e.g. Tunnel Warfare; a written review will follow in the near future), it remains “within limits”. They are very bad people, but still human. The Japanese are helped by KMT-soldiers, who unlike the Communist soldiers are rather dumb and subservient. Surprisingly, there is not a single reference to the USA.
The movie remains rather neutral for a propaganda movie for most of the first half of the time. After that, super-patriotism becomes the main theme of the movie. Not a minute is spent without glorifying Mao, the Communist Party, the country, the Revolution, the Army, etc. The heroism of the five soldiers trapped on the top of Langya Mountain seems to have no limits. The music becomes very bombastic too, adding to the drama when the Heroes jump off the cliffs.
The transfer is presented in 4:3, which seems to be the original AR. The image is rather soft and shows contrast boosting. There are plenty of scratches and speckles, but they add to the experience. At some moments, especially during night scenes, the image quality becomes very bad. It looks as if somebody tried to play with Photoshop’s brightness/contrast function without knowing how to do it. The video is encoded as NTSC; the image has not been transferred progressively. The distributor’s logo (yes, again!) appears at four instances during the movie. The red logo on the black/white movie background guarantees you won’t miss it. Look at the screenshots for a closer inspection of the visual quality.
The Mandarin audio track is in Dolby Digital 5.1. There is also an MPEG1-audio track on the DVD, but this cannot be selected. The audio sounds hollow and there is quite some noise. Subtitles are available in traditional and simplified Chinese and in English as well. I cannot judge the Chinese subtitle quality (I don’t understand the language), but the English subtitles are not really good. Subtitles sometimes scroll too fast and always sound rather “artificial”. You still get the message though, and compared with other movies from this genre and DVD studio, they are rather good.
The DVD opens with an intro of the August First Film Studio (listen to the Army’s song here), followed by an intro of the DVD studio. Further, we have to look at something that looks like a copyright notice, but after 48 seconds, we finally reach a fartistically animated menu, available in Chinese only. It’s not hard to find the English subtitles, just try a few options. Scene selection consists of six chapters.
As with many other DVDs from this genre and DVD studio, the visual quality is rather poor. The same goes for the audio and the subtitles. On the other hand, it adds some special charm and atmosphere. If you can endure VHS tape quality, you can also take the inferior quality of these movies. Also, the propaganda is rather mild and modest (compared with other contemporary Chinese movies, obviously). For some, the movie might be a bit dull at times, but with a running time of about 80 min, it can be an endurable adventure for many.