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

April 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

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

“The Battle at Lake Changjin II”

Directed by Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark and Dante Lam

Mandarin, Korean and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Korea, China, Japan and the United States, in December 1950, the action film “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” 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 II” 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.

Steven John Venn in “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“The Battle at Lake Changjin II” should have the more accurate title of “The Battle at Lake Changjin: The Deleted Scenes.” That’s because this cash-grab war movie isn’t a true sequel but just a series of scenes that could’ve been in the first movie. And the first movie wasn’t even that great in the first place. And even though “The Battle at Lake Changjin” (which is nearly three hours long) and its sequel “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” (which has a total running time of about two-and-half-hours) are both over-indulgent messes, just because “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” has a shorter time length doesn’t make it better than its predecessor. “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” is worse.

“The Battle at Lake Changjin II” has a nearly identical storyline as its predecessor, because the movie has the same production team as 2021’s “The Battle at Lake Changjin.” Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark and Dante Lam directed both movies, while both screenplays were written by Lan Xiaolong and Huang Jianxin. In both movies, the Chinese military group People’s Liberation Army fights against the U.S. military during the Korean War’s Battle at the Chosin Reservoir.

The Army’s 7th Company is led by a courageous and respected commander Wu Qianli (played by Wu Jing), who has a 19-year-old brother named Wu Wanli (played by Jackson Yee) in the company. Wanli enlisted in the Army against Qianli’s wishes. Also returning from the original “Battle at Lake Changjin” movie are the 7th Company’s 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). Because this is a war movie, not everyone makes it out alive.

And once again, the chief villains of the story are U.S. Marines Major General Oliver P. Smith (played by John F. Cruz) and U.S. Army Commander Douglas MacArthur (played by James Filbird). “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” adds some more American leaders who weren’t in the “The Battle at Lake Changjin.” U.S. president Harry Truman (played by Ben Z Orenstein) appears briefly in a few scenes. Truman, who is depicted as someone who tried to reign in MacArthur, utters this line in one of the scenes: “MacArthur needs to be reminded that no man is bigger than this war.” Lieutenant Colonial Wilber Colbert (played by Steven John Venn) is a stereotype of a ruthless American military leader who thinks Americans are better than anyone else.

This inferior sequel does a few things differently with the characters in the movie, compared to “The Battle at Lake Changjin.” A wounded 7th Company battalion commander named Yang Wenjang (played by Geng Le) gets a little bit of a backstory. Wenjang has a flashback to his life before he was in the war, when he’s seen with his girlfriend. But that barely counts as character development, which is mostly non-existent in this movie.

“The Battle at Lake Changjin II” (also titled “Water Gate Bridge”) has even more over-the-top battle scenes than in “The Battle at Lake Changjin.” Some of the Chinese soldiers almost seem to have superhuman powers, based on the way they can do eye-popping leaps and kicks in the air, where they look like action stuntmen, not realistic soldiers. And sometimes, they’re literally on fire doing it, as there’s more than one sequence where soldiers who are burning up in flames still get things done.

Even though “The Battle at Lake Changjin” and “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” (which were both filmed during the same time period) are among the most expensively produced movies in China’s history, many of the visual effects look cheap and tacky, and the stunts often look sloppy. “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” is even more incoherent than its predecessor.

It isn’t until the last 15 minutes of this three-hour schlockfest that “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” tries to bring some grief-stricken humanity to the story, to show the realistic emotional traumas of war. But by then, it’s too little, too late. The last scene in the movie is overly sentimental and looks very forced, because the sappy tone is very off-balance from the rest of the callous violence film. This final scene looks like it belongs in a completely different movie but was dropped in “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” as a manipulative attempt to get viewers to cry.

The directors of “The Battle at Lake Changjin” movies have said that it’s possible that a six-hour directors’ cut could be released. Two to three hours of watching one of these films is more than enough time wasted. If you just want to turn your brain off and watch shootouts and explosions with mindless dialogue and forgettable characters, then “The Battle at Lake Changjin” movies are for you. If you care about watching more meaningful and authentic movies about real-life wars, your time is better spent on any number of higher-quality choices.

CMC Pictures released “The Battle at Lake Changjin II” in select U.S. cinemas on February 11, 2022. The movie was released in China on February 1, 2022.

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.

Review: ‘Chinese Doctors,’ starring Zhang Hanyu, Yuan Quan, Zhu Yawen, Jackson Yee, Li Chen, Ou Hao and Zhou Ye

August 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Chinese Doctors” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“Chinese Doctors”

Directed by Andrew Lau

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Wuhan, China, from January to March 2020, the dramatic film “Chinese Doctors” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During the several weeks that Wuhan was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous doctors and patients at a local hospital fight the devastating effects of the pandemic, including sudden deaths, problems with patient overcrowding, a shortage of hospital workers, staffers who are overworked, and various disagreements related to health care and their personal lives. 

Culture Audience: “Chinese Doctors” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a very melodramatic and unrealistically trite version of the COVID-19 crisis in Wuhan.

A scene from “Chinese Doctors” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“Chinese Doctors” horrifically exploits the tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic by being an unrealistic soap opera about what happened in Wuhan, China, when the city was at the epicenter of the pandemic in the first three months of 2020. Most of the movie is set in an unnamed hospital that quickly becomes overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Instead of giving valuable and informative re-enactments of what really happened in a Wuhan hospital, “Chinese Doctors” (directed by Andrew Lau and written by Yonggan Yu) presents an accelerated version of a disaster movie, where deaths are just used as drive-by spectacles.

This movie has an abundance of ridiculous, eye-rolling scenes that undermine the seriousness of the subject matter. For example, in real life, numerous infected people showed up at hospitals but were turned away because there was no room. No one rioted over it.

However, in “Chinese Doctors,” this scenario is filmed like an angry mob scene where infected people stormed into the hospital. At one point, the mob becomes so hostile, that a doctor stands up on a table and uses a megaphone to shout: “Do you want to live?” And she makes a threat that if people don’t calm down, “I’ll get even with you!”

It’s a movie where people do perky group dances together in an overcrowded hospital while patients are dying around them. It’s a movie where a doctor yells jubilantly to COVID-19 patients, “We’ll get everyone cured as soon as possible!” (Never mind that while all of this is happening in early 2020, there is no cure for COVID-19 or even a vaccine.) And it’s a movie that seems to revel in its shameless, tacky exploitation.

Aside from the tawdry soap opera elements to the story, the movie’s gaudy cinematography and quick-cut editing are in very poor taste because they emulate music videos or commercials in what’s supposed to be a dramatic film about a deadly pandemic. The death scenes in “Chinese Doctors” are used only as backdrops to the bickering, emotional breakdowns and ego posturing of the doctors. And there are at least two instances where the audience is manipulated into thinking that someone has died in the hospital from COVID-19, but it’s a fake plot development because the person or persons end up surviving.

The movie features several doctors and patients, but only some of them get enough screen time so that viewers get to know their personalities. These characters are:

  • Zhang Jingyu (played by Zhang Hanyu), the hospital’s chief doctor, who is in his 50s and who has a compassionate but firm personality. His wife ends up becoming a COVID-19 patient.
  • Wen Ting (played by Yuan Quan), a no-nonsense taskmaster in her 40s and who is the highest-ranking female doctor on the hospital’s COVID-19 crisis team. She’s the doctor from the aformentioned scene where she shouted threats to a mob of people in the hospital who demanded service.
  • Tao Jun (played by Zhu Yawen), an arrogant doctor in his 30s who arrives from a prestigious hospital in Guangzhou and almost immediately clashes with Dr. Zhang.
  • Yang Xiaoyang (played by Jackson Yee), a nervous doctor in his 20s who is eager to impress his more experienced colleagues.
  • Wu Chenguang (played by Li Chen), an even-tempered doctor in his 40s who is a trusted colleague of Dr. Zhang.
  • Jin Zai (played by Ou Hao), a food delivery guy in his 20s who is certain he won’t get infected because he’s very careful about wearing as much personal protective equipment (PPE) as possible.
  • Xiao Wen (played by Zhou Ye), Jin Zai’s wife, who is in her 20s and is about nine months pregnant with their first child, whom they already know will be a daughter.

There are the predictable frantic scenes of doctors trying to keep up with the overflow of patients coming into the hospital and worrying about running out of PPE, medicine, supplies and other necessities. Dr. Zhang leads a task force to recruit volunteer medical workers from other hospitals. It’s how Dr. Tao ends up at Dr. Zhang’s hospital. These two “alpha males” argue with each other about how things are supposed to be done.

Meanwhile, there’s a scene of a female doctor having a tearful meltdown because she hasn’t been able to go home and hasn’t seen her family for days. She’s scolded by another doctor (played by Liang Dawei), who says that everyone is in the same situation. He’s later embarrassed when he finds out from another colleague that the crying doctor’s father recently tested positive for COVID-19. The movie makes a point of showing that the doctors and other hospital workers have worn masks for so long, the masks have left temporary scars on their faces.

The beginning of the movie makes it look like random people could just show up at the hospital, like they would at a shopping mall. But in reality, hospitals during the worst of the COVID-19 crisis were very strict from the beginning about who was let inside the already over-crowded hospitals during this crisis. We’ve all heard the horror stories about people who weren’t allowed to visit their loved ones who were COVID-19 patients dying in hospitals. It isn’t until later in the movie that these restrictions are depicted, such as when Dr. Zhang has to talk to his coronavirus-stricken wife through videoconferencing on her cell phone while she was confined to a hospital bed.

As for expectant parents Jin Zai and Xiao Wen, their story is the most manipulative one in the film. Jin Zai is very confident in thinking that he won’t get infected (he wears a mask and gloves while working), even though his job requires him to interact with strangers when Wuhan was on a quarantine lockdown. And when someone in a trashy COVID-19 melodrama is absolutely sure that they won’t get infected, you can easily predict what ends up happening to that person.

“Chinese Doctors” is cynically being marketed as a noble tribute to the doctors and all the other health care workers who made huge sacrifices to help patients during this crisis that turned into a pandemic. In reality, it’s a sloppily made, cash grab melodrama that uses COVID-19 as a gimmick. The real-life hospital workers, other caregivers and patients deserve a better movie. For an accurate look at a Wuhan hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, watch the noteworthy 2020 documentary “76 Days.”

CMC Pictures released “Chinese Doctors” in select U.S. cinemas on July 30, 2021. The movie was released in China on July 9, 2021.

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