Film #40 in the World War II Marathon may be an epitaph to the Second World War, or it may be simple Chinese propaganda, you decide!
Written By: Qitao Jiang, Wei Lu & Daying Ye
Directed By: Daying Ye
The debate that I have witnessed most whom have seen Hong Ying Tao enter into is whether or not it is a Chinese propaganda piece. There are those who say it is, those who say it isn’t, and a minority who say it doesn’t matter one way or the other. I’m used to being in the minority, but this time I can’t claim membership in that group. While I don’t believe that films need to be historically accurate, I do believe that taking a side in a historical film can be troublesome. Still, taking a side can be overcome by bravura film making, but that would not be an apt description of Hong Ying Tao. It is very much a Chinese propaganda piece, but it’s also a meandering story that doesn’t bother to go to anyplace in World War II that I found interesting.
Let’s get the propaganda stuff out of the way right now, because it’s my blog and I can do what I want, so there. Seriously though, most times I can see the opposite side of my viewpoint, but in the case of Hong Ying Tao and it’s obvious pro-Communist leanings I fail to see the side that claims it isn’t pro-Communist propaganda. Hong Ying Tao crafts a version of history where there are nothing but bloodthirsty Germans, goodhearted Soviets and oppressed Chinese revolutionaries attempting to flee from the atrocity inclined Democratic government of China. Anyone with the slightest interest in history circa World War II knows this representation of the times is far too simple and is pandering to anyone who takes a pro-Communist stance. Again, I wouldn’t have a problem with Hong Ying Tao messing with history to make a more compelling drama, but it messes with history to make a so-so film that at the end of the day appears to exist only as a pro-Communist yarn. So yes, Hong Ying Tao is Chinese propaganda, but that isn’t it’s sin, the movies sin is that it is a cloying and scattered attempt at storytelling in general.
I will admit that my expectations for the type of movie Hong Ying Tao would be were never quite met. I was hoping for a Chinese tale during World War II, not a Soviet tale with a few Chinese characters thrust into the lead roles. This isn’t a fault of the movie, the people behind Hong Ying Tao made the type of movie they wanted telling the story they wanted to tell. But, personally I would much rather have seen a tale of what was happening in China during World War II. I would even have taken a propaganda film about the rise of Maoism within China during this period in time. Sure, it would still be propaganda, but I could see a tale like that drawing me in a lot easier than the story I was given in Hong Ying Tao ended up being able to. That’s why even though I won’t fault the film makers behind Hong Ying Tao for choosing the story they did, I will fault them for not taking that story and making it interesting, or at least making it flow a whole heck of a lot better.
There were certainly elements of Hong Ying Tao that grabbed me, the screenshot I chose can speak to that. But, I could never get into any of the striking images, or even the Communist message, as much as I possibly could have if the movie didn’t play so herky-jerky. The director, Daying Ye, jumps back and forth between the stories of ChuChu & Luo Xiaoman so suddenly that no narrative flow can ever be established. There are times when it is darn near impossible to know exactly where the film is at and which characters plight we are following. When that is the case it becomes awfully hard to care about the characters or to care about where the story may be headed. Hong Ying Tao may look pretty darn good at times and Ye displays some nice touches as a director, but it’s such a disjointed tale that it failed to grab me or resonate with me in a fulfilling manner.
If you’re still a die hard Communist who believe in the idea of the Soviets as saints who never did a thing wrong then you will undoubtedly love Hong Ying Tao. For the rest of us, it’s a missed opportunity. It’s neither a good film or a good propaganda effort, and thus it should fail to entice anyone who comes at the film from an unbiased perspective. Then again, maybe there’s something else here that I’m missing in Hong Ying Tao because it has garnered some pretty good word of mouth over the years from what I can tell. Either way, in the opinion of this intrepid reviewer, there’s no reason you should make the effort to track Hong Ying Tao down, I’m sure there has to be better pro-Communist propaganda out there.