Written by: Dieter Waumans on November 28th, 2006
Theatrical Release Dates: China, 1959
Film Studio: August First Film Studio (Bayi Dianying Zhipian Chang)
Directors: Cheng Yin, Zhang Zheng
Writer: Chen Qi tong
Cast: Lan Ma, Huang Kai, Liang Yuru, Feng Guanghui, Li Meng
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)
Subtitles: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, “English”
Discs: 1 x DVD5
Features: Chapter selection (6 chapters)
The Long March was the military retreat of the Chinese Communist Army from Jiangxi Province to Yanan, in an attempt to evade total annihilation by the Kuomintang (you can read the history at wikipedia). At the beginning of the movie, the viewer is presented a short introduction about the Long March: Japanese imperialists intruded into the Northeast area of China. Jian Jie Shi, head of the Kuomintang, gathered one million soldiers and took assaults on every Communists revolutionary base, disregarding the pressing demand from people all over China to stop the civil war and combat the Japanese invaders together. In the October of 1934, under the leadership of Mao Ze Dong and the Central Communist, the Red Army broke through the enemy’s besiege and completed the world-famous Long March of 25000 mile. This movie displays the arduous experience of a pioneer troop from the 1st side army of the Red Army on the long march. In May 1935 following the brilliant leading of Mao Ze Dong and the Central Communist, the Red Army got rid of the enemy’s strong attack. They showed up abruptly at the An Shun Fang ferry by the Da Du River on the border of Sichuan Province.
Being chased and trapped by enemy troops, the Red Army has to cross the Da Du River to survive. The only suitable location to get to the other side of the river is at the Luding Bridge, which is in the hands of the Kuomintang. Without rest and food, the Red Army marches day and night to find the bridge being partially broken up (the planks had been removed from the bridge so all that remained were the hanging chains). Since the Red Army has no other choice but capturing the bridge, they try to put planks on the bridge’s remaining chains as soldiers cross it. Unbelievable but true, this approach works.
Next is the crossing of the Great Snowy Mountains. This too proves to be quite a dangerous adventure. The Red Army soldiers can neither move (lack of oxygen) nor rest (they would freeze to death). If this wouldn’t be enough hardship already, strong winds blow the soldiers off the cliffs as well. Sometimes, the easiest way to get through the mountain passes is to slide down over the ice on the slopes. During the crossing of the mountains, much stress is put on the heroism of the soldiers, and the (Chinese communist interpretation of the) principles of bravery and comradeship are pumped into the minds of the viewer.
As if the suffering is not enough already, the Red Army has now to cross over marshlands. Since all other routes to their end destination are occupied by greatly outranking numbers of Kuomintang troops, going through the marshland is their only hope. This too is a very demanding adventure: there is no food to be found underway and the marshes are dotted with treacherous traps. Also, the Red Army’s moral dwindles down as their hero and leader Li Yu Guo becomes very ill because of the complications of a shot wound. But for the future of his soldiers and the Chinese Communist Party, Li decides to cross the marshes with his troops. The journey takes several days and the Red Army is fatigued when they come out of the marshes, but behold! – a miracle happens. Out of the blue, a small army of Kuomintang soldiers on horse appears and are easily defeated by a completely fatigued but too fiercely fighting Red Army. The captured horses will help the Red Army with their further progress. I had a strong impression this scene was heavily influenced both cinematographically and musically by the Battle on the Ice scene from Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (but neither the movie nor the music of this Chinese movie come even close to Eisenstein’s work). Sadly, Li Yu Guo, “good servant of the Party and a good son of the Working People“, passes away at the moment his soldiers are victorious over the Kuomintang.
In the last phase, the Red Army tries to capture the Lazikou Pass (La Zi Mouth in the English language subtitles), a very narrow pass defended by a small fortress. Like in all other confrontations, the situation looks hopeless in the beginning. But cunning and brave as they are, the Communists climb to the top of the Pass and attack the Kuomintang fortress from the top. The Kuomintang soldiers run for their lives and the Red Army gloriously marches through the pass. Victory never seemed to be easier. The Red Army can now safely march into Shanxi Province, ending the Long March that saved the Red Army, the Communist Party, and the whole of China.
1. 27 mins – “You are kidding. We are Red Army. We are Commie. We are not afraid of anything. Nothing can stop us.”
2. 31 mins – “No, I don’t believe in God. Communist Party is our God. Only Communist Party can save our lives.”
3. 88 mins – “Don’t kill me Red Army Master!”
The quality of the transfer is rather poor. It is presented in 4:3, which probably is the original AR (although I’m not completely sure). The colours look muted and often seem to suffer from a brightness boosting effect to make the details look sharper. Little (euphemistic for “no”) effort has been done to clear the many scratches and dirt. Also, many scenes have a sepia tone. Especially open skies seem to suffer from it. The video is encoded as NTSC and the image has not been transferred progressively (much combing effects). All in all, the video’s quality is endurable – except for one thing: the appearance of the DVD distributor’s logo at circa 5 instances during the movie! The logo, a combination of three suspiciously commie-red circles (the distributor’s name appears to be Triple-Ring Audio-Visual Corporation China), appears at the right and scrolls to the left corner and remains there for a handful of seconds. It should be no point of discussion to call this an act of blasphemy, especially anno 2005. Look at the screenshots for a closer inspection of the visual quality. Nevertheless, the picture looks much better on TV than on PC.
The Mandarin audio track is in Dolby Digital 5.1 (probably remastered). The quality is not so good, as a constant hissing sound is noticeable during the movie. The intensity of the hissing varies throughout the movie, but becomes bothersome at times, especially at moments with little action.
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 very poor, and this for a cornucopia of reasons. Punctuation marks and capitalization are erratic, grammatical errors abound, spelling mistakes and bad translations are default. Next to that, subtitles sometimes run faster than they can be read. Often, subtitles appear on the screen as a combination of two, three or four words, which combined with the erratic punctuation/capitalization create a very incoherent atmosphere. Basically, the English subtitles can assist you in creating an idea about what is said in the movie, but not more than that. I’d be surprised if this translation is the work of a man (or woman). I have a strong suspicion they translated the subtitles with a program like Babelfish and “forgot” to proofread the result. On the other hand, the poor quality of the subtitles creates a “special atmosphere” around the movie that would be hard to attain otherwise (for example: “Don’t kill me Red Army Master.”)
There is a very basic animated menu with patriotic music playing in the background. The menu is available in Chinese only, so it takes a bit of trial and error to find the “English” subtitle option (unless you understand the language, obviously). Scene selection consists of six chapters.
The quality of the DVD itself is rather low: both video and audio quality are insufficient, English subtitles are horrible and let’s not forget the Triple-Ring Audio-Visual Corporation China logo that appears several times.
The movie itself is a nice example of a propagandistic historical movie, in this case using the Long March as source of inspiration. Even though propagandistic elements abound, they are seldom overwhelming. All together, it is an interesting movie that might be worth checking out if the topic interests you.