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  Publicity Stills of "Assembly"
Courtesy of Shaw

In Mandarin with English and Chinese Subtitles
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Starring: Zhang Hanyu, Deng Chao, Yuan Wenkang, Tang Yan, Liao Fan, Wang Baoqiang
RunTime: 2 hrs 4 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: NC-16 (Battle Scenes)

Opening Day: 3 January 2008


War feasts upon death, it’s greedy appetite carries away many a life on the battlefield, and soldiers must be ready to die at any time.

Yet all these sacrifices can be given meaning and reason with honor. A weathered witness of war's insatiable appetite, Guzidi, Captain of the Ninth Company, will struggle his entire life to return honor to his forty-six comrades and their self-sacrifice…

The year 1948 witnessed the launch of the Huaihai Campaign during the Chinese Civil War. In one of Chinese history's deadliest battles, thousands from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Nationalist Army (KMT) went into a battle that took place between Xuzhou and Bengdu.

It was during this bloody fight that Captain Guzidi led the Ninth Company infantry unit on a sniper mission. His orders were to fight the KMT Army until the retreat assembly call was sounded. Yet, after many long hours of painstaking resistance, Gu watched powerlessly as the ammunition ran out and the scant ranks of the Ninth Company grew sparser still.

The men were falling one by one. On the brink of death, Lieutenant Jiao Dapeng, Gu's best partner, announced that he heard the call and asked Gu to retreat with the remaining soldiers. The dying man's words spread doubt within the remainder of the company, but Gu insisted that the bugle had not sounded and that they were to continue fighting at all costs. Not until later did Gu realize that all the neighboring troops had already left the field, and that his entire company may sacrificed in vain because of his stubborn obedience.

Blinded by anger and guilt, Gu marched straight into the enemy's trench. But his life was spared, and he had no choice but to shoulder the gargantuan weight of guilt and mystery that would burden the remainder of his life…

A few days later, Gu woke up in a hospital. While among the KMT ranks, he had been wounded and captured by the PLA. He had lost his identity, and quickly learnt that without a survivor to vouch for them, the forty-six men who had bravely sacrificed their lives under him had simply gone missing.

Gu joined the infantry of the Liberation Army and painstakingly climbed up the lower rungs of the military ladder. Determined to prove the glorious death of his forty-six comrades, Gu embarks on a journey in search of those who hold the key to the mystery of the bugle call.

Movie Review:

From Steven Spielberg’s World War II Saving Private Ryan (1998) to Kang Je-gyu’s Korean blockbuster Tae Guk Ki (2004), the genre of war movies have always been the perfect vehicle for local national servicemen to bond and yak about their opinions on patriotism and brotherhood. While we do not remember any prominent Mainland Chinese war epic, we have always been sure that they can produce an impressive drama, given their rich histories and the availability of magnificent film locations.

So when award-winning director Feng Xiaogang announced that he is going to make a war movie, we knew that it won’t go very wrong. And besides its remarkable production value, this movie also gives us one of the most touching performances we have ever seen on screen by actor Zhang Hanyu.

Zhang plays a captain of the Communist Liberation Army who leads his company in a battle against the Nationalist Kuomintang Forces, and eventually becomes the only man to survive the wars he fought in. What began as a civil war in 1949 became a man’s quest to fight for truth during peacetime in the mid-1950s.

It is without doubt that the movie has approached the genre from an interesting angle, focusing not just on the war, but also the dramatic emotions of the men who fought in the war. This makes the movie both an exciting war picture as well as a moving human drama.

Feng, known for his constant box-office in China for movies like A World Without Thieves (2004) and The Banquet (2006), has produced another sure-win picture this time round, but has done it without featuring big names. Unlike the superstars in his previous works, his latest movie features an obscure cast. The only face you’d probably recognize is Hu Jun (Lan Yu, Infernal Affairs III), who plays an official with limited screen time.

The 124-minute movie clearly belongs to leading man Zhang, who affectively brings out the heartrending emotions of a man who sticks by his principles and beliefs. Based on a true life story, Zhang crafts his role with so well, you may even be shedding a tear or two during the picture’s many stirring scenes. Watch out for simple yet effective scenes where Zhang cleverly diverts the American enemy’s attention by spouting gibberish, how he has a simple conversation with his blood brother outside a hospital ward, and how he finds out a hurting truth at a compatriot’s war memorial grave.

And what is a war movie without the captivating battle sequences? You’d be wowed by the numerous explosions, the countless extras, the real tanks which were destroyed, and not forgetting the graphically violent blood and dismembered limbs. Captured on lens with intentional grey cinematography and shot with a constantly shaky camera, the scenes are top-rate and are comparable to Hollywood productions. What’s more, they arrest our attention with its discomforting look at war, and tops it all off with an affecting story of one man who stuck to his beliefs amidst the chaos.

Movie Rating:

(Thanks to its superb production value and the cast’s stellar performances, the picture is both gritty war movie and a poignant human drama)

Review by
John Li


. 300 (2007)

. The Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

. The Banquet (2006)

. A World Without Thieves (2004)

. Brotherhood (2004)

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