Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Storm Over the Yangtse River (Li Han-Hsiang, 1969): Mini-Film Review

I remember the first time I saw Li Han-Hsiang's 李翰祥 1969 film Storm Over the Yangtse River 《揚子江風雲》--I was in a film viewing room in the Taiwan Film Institute on Qingdao East Road 青島東路 road in Taipei, I was concluding a research trip funded by Taiwan Ministry of Education in 2011 for an article on my favorite Taiwan film of the 1960s and 1970s (Li Hanxiang's The Winter 《冬暖》 (1969),  produced in the same year as Storm Over the Yangtse River), and I had only two hours before I needed to head to the Taoyuan International Airport and head back to the U.S.

It was a film I had to see, in addition to all of Li Hanxiang's major works, in order to discuss his film style and technique. Today, it's great to revisit this classic film--a standout of it's genre in Taiwan film history--restored with clear subtitles, although I do question why these genre film's translate "Japanese" as "Japs."

The film begins with startling black and white film reels of scenic locations in China, such as Beijing's Temple of Heaven, in order to demonstrate the importance of the motherland to Taiwan's film viewers in the late 1960s, and--via a "voice of god" narrator--to remind viewers of the atrocities committed by Japanese military aggression on the mainland during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Storm Over the Yangtse River is perhaps a b-quality melodramatic film about a Chinese spy involved in a complex double-crossing scheme during World War II, but it is "A" quality when it comes to providing a window on pop culture during the Cold War. And true to Li Hanxiang's approach to narrative, it pulls out all the conventional stops of the time: sensuality, torture, action, war, love, patriotism, intrigue, murder, and last-minute rescues.

As the image (below) from the film demonstrates, Li Han-Hsiang was a big-time director who took a "go-big-or-go-home" mentality to his idea of what the silver screen could accomplish. His depictions of war contain numerous extras and his sets are the best of the era.

For my list of Taiwan Cinema Toolkit film reviews, click this link here.

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