by Allan Fish
(China 2000 140m) DVD1
Aka. Guizi lai le
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p Jiang Wen, Dong Ping, Zheng Quangang d Jiang Wen w Jiang Wen, You Fengwei, Shu Ping, Shi Jianquan, Xing Liu, Li Haiying ph Gu Changwei ed Zhang Yifan, Folmer Weisinger m Ciu Jian, Xing Liu, Li Haiying art Tang Shiyun
Jiang Wen (Ma Dasan), Jiang Hongbo (Yu’er), Teruyuki Kagawa (Kosaburo Hanaya), Yuan Ding (Dong Hanchen), Chen Qiang (‘One Stroke’ Liu), Cong Zhijun (grandfather), Zi Xi (Liu Wang), Li Haibin (Me), Kenya Sawada (Inokichi Sakatsuka), Cai Waidong (Er Bozi),
It’s a fair assumption to make that, if one was to ask your average film buff what was the last great film shot in monochrome, most people would immediately mention Schindler’s List. Other films since have used black and white effectively, most memorably Memento, yet my answer to that question would be something quite different. The last great monochrome film was Jiang Wen’s Devils on the Doorstep, but how many people know it? In France the film is well-known, thanks to its Cannes release (and award) in 2000 and relatively frequent showings on television, but in Britain it was never shown, either on the cinema, DVD or television, and it took until 2004 for the film to get a DVD release in the States. Even then, however, the film is still unrecognised as one of the masterpieces of modern Chinese cinema, and indeed, cinema in general.
Set in the last months of World War II, in 1944-45, Devils tells the tale of Ma Dasan, a Chinese villager in Japanese occupied Manchuria who one night, while in the middle of a clandestine sexual encounter with his beloved Yu’er, is awoken by a knock on the door from a man who, when asked who he is, simply replies “me”. On letting him in, the visitor holds a gun to his face and drags in two prisoners. The man is a member of the Chinese resistance to the captors, and his prisoners are a Japanese soldier and a Chinese translator collaborating with the Japanese. ‘Me’ tells Dasan to interrogate them and that he will be back to collect them. When he leaves, Dasan is terrified of his predicament, an unenviable one which could see him branded a traitor from either angle. His fellow villagers plead with him to kill the prisoners, but his fear of ‘me’ prompts him to keep them alive, at great risk to his security. (more…)