The Eight Hundred
Gian Hu’s epic film The Eight Hundred, shot entirely on IMAX cameras, is based on the real-life account of the Chinese Resistance Army (NRA) and their perilous 1937 mission of defending the Sihang Warehouse from Japanese invaders. The incident signalled the denouement of the three-month Battle of Shanghai, part of the ongoing Sino-Japanese War. The feature resolutely and immersively captures this historical moment, labelled by the Chinese as their own “Dunkirk moment”.
Viewers are caught in the crossfire from the get-go, and this pressurised, often overbearing pace is maintained throughout. The camera flits from one scene to the next, each sequence filled to the brim with people, noise and colour; a visual assault showcasing the brutal effects of war. The viewer witnesses a constant stream of people being shot, decapitated and dismembered. Death is ubiquitous, numbing our senses to the profuse sight of blood, pain and suffering. Admittedly the rich graphic detail, high action and drama are stunning – mesmerising, even – and conducive to the movie’s ambitious intentions.
The warehouse is located just across the Suzhou Creek. It’s a British concession, a neutral zone, inhabited by rich locals and foreigners such as diplomats and journalists. There is a sense of perversion in the cosmopolitan elite casually sipping martinis and observing the deadly mayhem across the canal as if at the theatre. Their brightly lit surroundings are reminiscent of the roaring 20s in Paris; completely dissociated from the rest of the war-torn city.
The cameras pan to and fro across the creek, dropping in and out of dramatic situations and conversations. The ear latches onto the sporadic spoken English commentary littered throughout. There are no central protagonists, whether of Chinese or foreign origin. Characters are given little, if any, backstory. They are secondary, only there to propel the story forward. A seemingly important character can be killed off without a second thought. Therefore, one’s emotional investment in proceedings is muted.
Hu’s unique filming style is ambitious, stylish, smart and decisive. Yet there are shortcomings, albeit infrequent, such as the choice of trad music and dialogue as well some minor predictable plot points. There’s a lot to unpack here, with so much going on in almost every scene that it’s almost too much to take in with one viewing. But in spite of all this, The Eight Hundred is an impressive feature.
The Eight Hundred is released in select cinemas on 16th September 2020.
Watch the trailer for The Eight Hundred here: