Review: ‘The Battle at Lake Changjin,’ starring Jing Wu and Jackson Yee

April 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jackson Yee and Jing Wu in “The Battle at Lake Changjin” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“The Battle at Lake Changjin”

Directed by Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark and Dante Lam

Mandarin, Korean and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Korea and briefly in China from June to December 1950, the action film “The Battle at Lake Changjin” features a mostly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing military people and politicians involved in the Korean War.

Culture Clash: Two bickering brothers, who are in the China-based People’s Liberation Army, have various battles with each other and military enemies during the Korean War against the United States. 

Culture Audience: “The Battle at Lake Changjin” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in violent war movies with amateurish dialogue and stereotypical characters that don’t have much that’s interesting to say.

James Filbird in “The Battle at Lake Changjin” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“The Battle at Lake Changjin” is a very bloated war movie filled with simplistic dialogue, poorly written characters and tedious fight scenes. This repetitive depiction of a crucial battle in the Korean War does not earn its nearly three-hour running time. The film portrays China’s military group the People’s Liberation Army fighting against the U.S. military during the Korean War’s Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Because it’s a scripted movie with some fictional characters, don’t expect it to be entirely accurate to real history.

If you only want to see war movies that have a certain agenda and care more about expensive-looking battle scenes than crafting a well-made war story, then “The Battle at Lake Changjin” might be for you. If you prefer to watch a war movie that places more importance on showing repetitive explosions and violent deaths than placing importance on audiences getting to know the main characters, then “The Battle at Lake Changjin” might be for you. For everyone else, it’s a mind-numbing slog that just looks like a video game with a big movie budget.

“The Battle at Lake Changjin” (directed by Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark and Dante Lam) is reportedly one of the most expensively made Chinese movies of all time, with a production budget of $200 million. Most of that money looks like it went into the bombastic battle scenes that pull out every visual-effects trick in the book to make the explosions, battlefield shootouts and killings look very over-the-top. Unfortunately, hardly any of the movie’s budget seems to have been invested in quality screenwriting or acting. The movie’s screenplay (written by Lan Xiaolong and Huang Jianxin) is simply abysmal, while the acting is mediocre at best.

“The Battle at Lake Changjin” attempts to have some meaningful family drama, by having the movie’s two central characters as brothers who often disagree with each other. Older brother Wu Qianli (played by Wu Jing) is commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s 7th Company, where is considered a a respected war hero. However, Qianli bears the burden and guilt over the war death of his older brother Wu Baili, who was killed in combat.

Qianli’s 19-year-old brother Wu Wanli (played by Jackson Yee) admires his older brother Qianli. However, the two brothers clash because Wanli wants to join the People’s Liberation Army, but Qianli doesn’t want that to happen, mainly out of fear that he doesn’t want to lose another family member in war combat. Wanli doesn’t see it that way, because he thinks that Qianli views him as inferior and not brave enough to fight in a war. Therefore, Wanli feels insulted.

Not surprisingly, Wanli ends up secretly joining the Army, much to Qianli’s disapproval. Qianli tells Wanli that he won’t get any special treatment, just because they are brothers. In fact, Qianli goes out of his way to not give Wanli any help or advice, even when other members of the Army bully and tease Wanli because they think Wanli will get nepotism perks. A lot of people in this army doubt that babyfaced Wanli has what it takes to be a tough soldier.

Wanli remains steadfast in his commitment to the Army. And slowsly but surely, he starts to gain respect from his Army peers and Wanli. These supporting characters in the 7th Company aren’t given enough depth in their personalities or development in their story arcs. They include political instructor Mei Sheng (played by Zhu Yawen), fire platoon leader Yu Congrong (payed by Li Chen), artillery platoon leader Lei Suisheng (played by Hu Jun) and sniper Ping He (played by Elvis Han).

Wanli’s first friend in the 7th Company is a fellow teen soldier named Zhang Xiaoshan (played by Shi Pengyuan) young soldier of the 7th Company who befriends Wanli. There’s also a sublot about how one of the People’s Liberation Army also includes Mao Anying (played by Huang Xuan), the eldest son of then-Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong (played by Tang Guoqiang), also known as Chairman Mao, who allowed Anying to join the war with some reluctance. People who know Chinese history already know what Anying’s fate was.

Military officials in this movie are depicted as broad caricatures with hollow personalities that just recite forgettable lines. One of these side characters is Peng Dehuai (played by Zhou Xiaobin), People’s Volunteer Army commander and People’s Revolutionary Military vice chairman. The movie gives the worst jingoistic dialogue to American military officials such as U.S. Marines Major General Oliver P. Smith (played by John F. Cruz) and U.S. Army Commander Douglas MacArthur (played by James Filbird), who’s depicted as a robotic warmonger, who’s often wearing sunglasses and chomping on a pipe.

“The Battle at Lake Changjin” gives very amateurish re-enactments of what behind-the-scenes war strategies might have been. The filmmakers seem to think that throwing in a lot of explosions and gunfire, in addition to showing men constantly shouting at each other, are enough to make a compelling war movie. It’s not. “The Battle at Lake Changjin” is an onslaught of very staged and very loud scenes of destruction that turn into a mishmash of mayhem until its very predictable conclusion.

CMC Pictures released “The Battle at Lang Changjin” in select U.S. cinemas on November 19, 2021. The movie was released in China on September 30, 2021.

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