China Film
07 January 2020

The Eight Hundred (八百)

The Eight Hundred (八百), an $80 million war film directed by Guan Hu, was slated to be one of the most anticipated releases of 2019. However, at the last minute its debut as the opening film at the Shanghai International Film Festival was cancelled a planned July theatrical release put on hold. No explanation was offered at the time, but commentators suspect that the film ran into problems with government censors. While the film tells a seemingly patriotic story, based on a classic battle in which a band of Chinese soldiers held off the Japanese advance on Shanghai from a warehouse along Suzhou Creek, the true heroes were the Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang) forces, rather than Mao Zedong’s Communist Party.

Huayi Brothers reportedly spent two years reconstructing several city blocks of Shanghai circa 1937 for the film. On one side of Suzhou creek sits the famous warehouse, surrounded by a bombed-out cluster of modest Chinese buildings, while the other side, the site of the unscathed foreign concessions, is overloaded with neon signs, American billboards, and gambling and entertainment venues. The set sits on a lot in Suzhou alongside the Huayi Brothers Movie World theme park, though it remains closed to the public. I managed to get access after filming was over and photograph the eerily empty streets over two days.

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