The actors carry a disarming charm, the humor is actually funny and the film as a whole is a worthwhile audiovisual experience.
The good stuff
The remarkable trip of one farmer and his huge cow. My advice: just watch it and marvel at this unlikely piece of genre mash-ups.
The film looks beautiful, the acting is superb and while thematically a little easy the execution and blend of genres makes sure it never becomes too dull or feels too familiar.
There are no weak shorts, one exceptional piece and enough variation to breeze through its 140 minutes running time.
I'm not a big fan of war cinema and The Eight Hundred really took a page from their Western counterpart. The film focuses on one famous battle, picks a side and tries to make their fight as heroic as possible. This film is all about Chinese honor, dedication and sacrifice, so if you can't stand (foreign) patriotism it's better to skip this one altogether.
Eight hundred Chinese soldiers are shacked up in the Si-Hang building, in the middle of Shanghai. They're surrounded by Japanese troops, their goal is to hold them off until the bulk of the Chinese army reaches Shanghai to help them out. It's a four-day battle that'll cost many lives, but they're doing it for the honor of their people.
Lots of chaos, bodies flying around, bullets whizzing, with some light but loud drama in between the action. It's not really my thing, but the cinematography is so stunning that I almost didn't care. I knew Guan could deliver styling-looking films, but I was surprised he managed to elevate a full-on blockbuster like this. I didn't really care for the soldiers and their plight, but simply kept watching to see what marvels Guan would come up with next. If you like the big Western/US blockbuster war flicks though, this comes well recommended.
It seems China has discovered the perks of war cinema. It's a match made in heaven really, as it allows them to be over-the-top nationalistic without straying too far from accepted genre expectations. Let that be one of the main reasons why I'm not such a big fan of the genre, even when some well-respected directors take a shot at it.
The Sacrifice focuses on one minor event in the Korean War and makes it the centerpiece of the entire war. The Chinese are trying to cross a bridge which the Americans keeps bombing to smithereens. Cue some very heroic actions and yes, sacrifices. And guess who comes out the winner in the end ...
It's all way too blasé for my liking, but at least Frant Gwo, Hu Guan and Yang Lu know how to produce a big spectacle. There's a little timeline wizardry going on and the battles are pretty intense, which makes it at least entertaining enough to watch. But looking at the talent involved, this is still somewhat of a disappointment.
There's a lot of flag-waving and chest-thumping going on here, but look past that and you'll find a decent anthology celebrating the achievements of the little people, helmed by some of China's prime directors. It was a little too sentimental and overdone in places, but it wasn't as terrible as I had initially feared it would be.