War films are a film genre concerned with warfare, usually about naval, air or land battles, sometimes focusing instead on prisoners of war, covert operations, military training or other related subjects. I felt this was an important genre to showcase and I have compiled what I think represent the best visions of real life war stories. Even though Americans have produced some pretty stellar war films I feel there isn’t enough merit towards Asian War films. From this list I hope you can realize that they are equally tragic, heroic, and important. Let us kick off the list with the number 10 pick:
War Depicted: The Second Sino-Japanese war.
Why It’s Great: Somewhere between 20 to 30 million Chinese died at the hands of the Japanese invaders between 1937 and 1945, creating a degree of animosity between the two countries that persists to this day. Beautifully filmed, the movie portrays mid-twentieth century China against breathtaking vistas and crowded cities amidst ancient buildings and sweeping deserts. Yet for a film set in a murderous war, we see far more of the rugged beauty of China than of the savagery of the Japanese invasion. This lands at the number 10 slot becuase it was an important piece of history and the film did a good job depicting the happenings of the time.
War Depicted: Meiji Restoration in the Empire of Japan in 1876 and 1877.
Why It’s Great: I think The Last Samurai could well be to Japan what Braveheart was to Scotland. The Last Samurai is an epic portrayal of the intimate story of cultures at a crossroads as imperial Japan undergoes a tumultuous transition to a more Westernised society. The views of the Japanese countryside, and the lifestyle and culture of the Samurai were truly amazing to experience.
War Depicted: Set in the 1860s, during the Taiping Rebellion in the late Qing Dynasty in China.
Why It’s Great: Overall, The Warlords show a more ruthless side of Jet Li as he plays his role well while Andy Lau plays a tragic hero torn between different factions. This epic movie does not only stresses on war alone but speaks much about life as well.The humanity of man is clearly depicted in this film. Although not referenced directly, there is alot of true history in Warlords, that from 1850 to 1864, 20 to 30 million Chinese lost their lives due to warfare and starvation as a direct result of a rebellion against the Qing Dynasty. The despair and suffering felt by millions during this period is represented in the film, although no where near as worse as reality was.
War Depicted: Set in the Warring States Period of Chinese history, from about 475 BC to the unification of China under the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC. It is nominally considered to be the second part of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.
Why It’s Great: Battle of Wits is essentially a tale of two halves. The first half of the film depicts Ge Li’s arrival, rising influence, and initial clashes with Xiang Yanzhang’s army. The second half is where the film’s focus begins to waver. With a small population of only four thousand, City Liang was ruled by King Liang. Watching this I realized how much it has in common with Seven Samurai. There are no bad guys and good guys. The philosiphies and principles behind what makes one decide to fight, kill and make war is discussed by the main protaganists in the movie.
War Depicted: The Chinese Civil War
Why It’s Great: The Ninth Company of the People’s Liberation Army led by brash Captain Gu Zidi are sent out to defend a mine from the advancing Kuomintang troops. On one of his missions Gu’s unit is caught in an ambush of the Nationalist Kuomintang forces, in which his Political Officer gets killed. Assembly refers to the call of the bugle to retreat and regroup, and this is the call that Captain Gu Zidi (Zhang Hanyu) and his 47 men of the 9th Company, 3rd Batallion, 139th Regiment, are keenly listening out for, as they go about their mission in ill-equipped fashion, holding fort on a strategic plain. The human element is the main focus here, and the sacrifices made by soldiers are to be honored because they’re people, and not members of one side or the other. The trade-off is that the emotions are safe, and no message exists that raises Assembly to the Saving Private Ryan level of intense human drama.
War Depicted: Battle of Red Cliffs (208-209 AD)
Why It’s Great: The most expensive Chinese language picture ever, John Woo’s costume actioner, Red Cliff, scales the heights. The fight sequences were pure spectacle, with old school wire work combined with technological wizardry to showcase some large scale battle sequences at a macro level, or to highlight the immense naval numbers that Cao Cao brings to battle. Formations and strategies take centerstage. I was impressed by the coordination of the army, on how they moved and understood drum beats accordingly. This is a 4 1/2 hour epic movie that was split into two seperate movies. Well worth your time and historical buffs will love the accuracy of the film.
War Depicted: World War II in Japan
Why It’s Great: Roger Ebert considers it to be one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made. Animation historian Ernest Rister compares the film to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and says, “it is the most profoundly human animated film I’ve ever seen.” It’s the relationship between the two central characters that makes Grave of the Fireflies such a strong film. Here you have two innocent people thrust into a horrific situation. The movie focuses almost exclusively on two children who become casualties in the Kobe bombing. Seita and Setsuko lose their home, then lose their mother. Grave of the Fireflies is a touching and extremely painful movie to watch, but it’s not an idle tearjerker. This movie is direct, honest, thought provoking, and worth being watched by anyone.
War Depicted: Battle of Iwo Jima
Why It’s Great: The movie makes clear how the rigid military discipline and samurai coda of bushido worked against the Japanese throughout the fight for Iwo Jima. Eastwood emphasizes the humanistic qualities of each soldier and successfully revised my perception of Japanese and American soldiers during World War II. Only a truely powerful film would have the power to leave that effect on me. Unlike Flags of our Fathers which tried to do too many things, Iwo Jima focuses entirely on the days leading up to the battle all the way until its conclusion. Great film and one I can recommend to you guys guilt-free.
War Depicted: Korean War
Why It’s Great: The film focuses on a war that has gotten little to no attention from American cinema and shows sides of it that I was not familiar with. If you think you can stomach the violence than it is recommended. The first major battle sequence occurs in the early weeks of the Korean War when the North Koreans have all but taken the South. The Lee brothers and their unit are surrounded by the Nakdong River and are being starved to death. This creates for a brutal and intense scene. Tae Guk Gi’s story goes deep into the heart of Korean national identity. Both sides are equally cruel to ordinary villagers who are just trying to survive. The remainder of the film explores the progress of this war with great detail, leaving no battle untold and visually depicting the atrocities of war.
War Depicted: The Battle of Nanjing during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Why It’s Great: Easily my number 1 pick, this film follows the Japanese as they enter Nanking and begin to exterminate those who have chosen to stay. Some are shot, others are beheaded. The images of war, from gated prisoners being shot down like rows of dominoes to Japanese soldiers literally dancing on civilians’ graves, are every bit as powerful as the battle scenes from Saving Private Ryan. I’d like to express my sympathy to the victims of the massacre and respect to the hard work by the film crew. City of Life and Death is an incredible examination of the hell that human beings create during war. It is at times difficult to watch, but comes with my highest recommendation. Even if the characterisation is a shade too generic, and it’s often hard to respond to savagery on this magnitude, the very fact that these events are being brought to light with such care makes this a significant film.
There you have it folks. I hope this list has opened your eyes to the heroism that these wars have depicted and you have some interest in tracking a few of these films down and watching them. Feel free to sound off in the comments and let me know your own top 10 or if you had a favorite that narrowly missed the list. Until next time…