Starring: Zhang Guoli, Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins
Directed by: Feng Xiaogang
Rated: Not Rated
Running time: 2 hours 25 mins
China Lion Entertainment
Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
In the winter of 1942 a terrible drought came over the Henan province in China. The drought, combined with a locust invasion and the continued war with Japan, eventually left 3 million people dead.
Based on the novel “Remembering 1942” by Zhenyun Liu (who also did the screenplay), “Back to 1942” is an epic telling of a story few people know. The story begins with a local village, run by the wealthy Mr. Fan (Guoli), being visited by a band of wandering “bandits.” But they’re not there to steal. They’re only looking for a meal. They are allowed in but Fan dispatches a lackey to bring back soldiers to arrest them. However his plan is discovered and a riot breaks out which transforms the village into a smoldering pile of rubble. Those not killed pack up their belongings and begin a trek to what they hope is salvation only to be slapped down repeatedly by everything from the weather to the Japanese Air Force.
Skillfully directed, “Back to 1942” is an unfiltered – and unflinching- look at the true perils of war. What amazes is that, in the more than two hour running time, there isn’t one moment of lightness. No sudden comic moment to help ease the story along. They say war is hell and this film doesn’t let you forget that. As their journey continues we are reminded via titles (“31 days, 76 miles”) how far they have traveled. By the end of the film you’re so emotionally drained that you feel as if you’ve walked every step as well.
The performances are strong, including those by a couple of Oscar winners. Brody plays “Time” magazine writer Theodore White, who covered China for many years and went on to write several “Making of the President” books. White, who was a college classmate of Joe Kennedy, Jr. would also later write an essay for “Life” magazine in which John F. Kennedy would forever be linked to Camelot. Robins has a smaller but just as important role as Father Thomas Megan, the first Divine Word Prefect in China. Production values are strong with special mention going to the bleak yet sharp photography courtesy of cinematographer Yue Lu.
“Back to 1942” is presented in Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles (the scenes with Brody and Robbins are in English) and is now playing in limited release in the following cities: Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington D.C.