The highest grossing film of 2020? This Chinese blend of 300 and Black Hawk Down satisfies as an epic scale depiction of this WWII prelude.
Historically, this was a messy era, with China and Japan engaged in their second Sino-Japanese War, the latter country heavily involved with Stalin and on the precipice of both the grander WWII and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1937 Shanghai, however, this all ultimately boiled down to one last stand by the Chinese Army, whose desperate attempt to fend off the advance of some 20,000 Japanese soldiers was watched live by the international community on the other side of the river, arguably spurring a whole country into firming up their resolve to resist the invasion.
What The Eight Hundred lacks in characterisation it makes up for not only in epic scale of conflict, but in tangible emotional impact
Vastly outnumbered by the Japanese invading force, Lieutenant Colonel Xie Jinyuan's diminishing force manages to stave off the advance for some three months before finally retreating to a large warehouse to make their last stand. Down to just a few hundred men - although presenting themselves as a force twice as large - they face wave after wave of attacks on the building, in full view of the larger international community of Shanghai, where global reporters watch and record the bravery of these desperate few.
The Eight Hundred comes to the UK as a digital purchase available from all major services in 1080p HD, and on Limited Edition Blu-ray too, presented in 2.39:1 widescreen, a perhaps odd choice of ratio in the days of Zack Snyder's Justice League and Batman v Superman IMAX 4K as this is actually the first Chinese film to be shot ENTIRELY in IMAX, and only the third global feature to be shot entirely in IMAX (Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame being the others). Arguably, those Avengers movies weren't exactly treated any differently (even the 4K releases came from a 2KDI in 2.4:1) but it seems like a curious choice not to at least go 'full frame' 1.78:1 for The Eight Hundred, even if they didn't want to do a Snyder. Wearing what feels like a decent budget on its sleeve, it certainly looks epic, delivered with a slightly green-yellow-twinged 'period' look but also privy to a few very vibrant sparks of colour (not least from the sparkly, positively luminous International Settlement of Shanghai on the other side of the river - well, technically, creek). The fireworks pop with neon intensity, and these moments, whilst they could be jarring, actually give a nice balance to the feature which is otherwise oppressively muddy and dirty by nature.
The first Chinese film to be shot ENTIRELY in IMAX, and only the third global feature to be shot entirely in IMAX (Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame being the others)
Certainly nobody would be able to question the epic scale to The Eight Hundred, which trades in the same kind of impossible survival odds that all the best War films enjoy, whether it be the handful against the many, or the few hundred against the tens of thousands. There's certainly a Black Hawk Down vibe to the proceedings, and a 300 feel to the sacrifice. These were clearly impossible odds and the distinction here is perhaps that genuine willingness to sacrifice your life for the cause - not like you might expect from a traditional (particularly Western) War movie, this is a very different mentality. Literally a line of people strapping bombs to themselves and shouting out their names as they go, valiantly, to their deaths.
What The Eight Hundred clearly lacks in characterisation (yes, there are far too many characters, painted far too thinly, to get behind any one of them) it somewhat makes up for not only in epic scale of conflict, but in tangible emotional impact from the sheer number of sacrifices you - and the 'audience' across the river - witness. Although clearly very politically angled, there's no denying the impact here, and whilst the Box Office success of The Eight Hundred was likely entirely thanks to the possibly somewhat ironic 'successful' containment of Covid in China, it's still a very interesting entry in the annals of Biggest Box Office hits.
The Eight Hundred is available as a Digital Purchase from all major Streaming Platforms now, and on Blu-ray from 26th April 2021.
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