How ‘Sacrifice’ is Making Old-School Patriotism Cool Again

The film, which has already made more than 350 million yuan domestically, draws from China’s cinematic past to tell a tale of heroism unburdened by doubts.

China’s latest blockbuster, the Korean War-themed “Sacrifice,” hit theaters on Oct. 23. For those keeping score, that’s just 78 days after principal photography began on Aug. 6. Needless to say, the film more than earned its tag line: “Not a second to lose.”

There’s method to the madness here. China’s film industry was shut down for the entire first half of the year as the country worked to contain its COVID-19 outbreak. With the 70th anniversary of China’s intervention in the Korean War — known on the Chinese mainland as the “War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea” — on Oct. 25, and Sino-U.S. relations arguably at their lowest point in decades, practically the entire national film industry was mobilized to produce a fitting tribute in time.

Helmed by filmmakers Guan HuGuo Fan, and Lu Yang and featuring a cast studded with stars like Rambo-esque Wu Jing and arthouse favorite Zhang Yi, the speed with which “Sacrifice” was produced has earned it comparisons with Huoshenshan hospital, the makeshift COVID-19 hospital built in a matter of days this February. And not without good reason: A team of 2,600 artists worked around the clock to get the special effects done in time, finishing early enough that the film’s release was actually pushed up two days.

The result is at times spectacular, with soldiers exploding in showers of blood and planes being blown out of the sky. But “Sacrifice” is more than just a feat of cinematic engineering. Given the circumstances and timing of its release, there’s no denying it was made with a very specific political goal in mind: To mentally prepare audiences to patriotically “Defend home and protect the country,” in the words of a recently revived slogan. And for that to happen, the movie has to engage viewers on an emotional level, not just a visceral one, meaning it needs to tell a good story.

Rather than try to come up with an affecting plot from scratch, the makers of “Sacrifice” took a shortcut, leaning heavily on the raft of domestically produced movies about the Korean War from the 1950s and 1960s. The central struggle, to protect a bridge long enough for a relief army to cross, parallels the 1960 film “Raid,” albeit with the two sides reversed. Its portrayal of soldiers, meanwhile, owes much to 1956’s tale of stoic troops under siege, “Shangganling.” And the titular sacrifice, when an anti-aircraft gunner reveals his position to draw the enemy’s attention, seems taken straight from 1964’s “Heroic Sons and Daughters.”

The score of “Sacrifice,” too, ushers in nostalgia to elicit the desired emotional response. Neither of the film’s two most important tracks are original compositions. The first, which plays as Chinese soldiers save the day by forming a human bridge across treacherous waters, is “My Motherland.” The song, also famously used in “Shangganling,” is universally known on the Chinese mainland and has been dubbed “China’s second national anthem.” Not long after, “Sacrifice” closes with a cover of the “Heroic Sons and Daughters” theme.

It’s well done, and with over 350 million yuan ($53 million) in tickets sold over the weekend, the movie has clearly struck a chord with audiences. But it’s worth noting that “Sacrifice” is only able to draw so deeply from this well because of the, well, sacrifices made by those that came before. China’s first generation of Korean War films were no ordinary undertaking. They were built on the backs of a generation of filmmakers, storytellers, and artists, some of whom risked their lives to see them made. “Sacrifice” has made hay of its three-month timeline, but compared with what went into those earlier films, its production comes off as positively relaxed. Continue to read the full article here


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.