Ji jie hao (Assembly) (2007)
Director: Xiaogang Feng.
Starring: Chao Deng (Zhao, Erdou), Heng Fu (Luo - Guangtian), Jun Hu (Liu - Zeshui), Phil Jones (US Army Captain), Fan Liao (Jiao, Dapeng), Naiwen Li (Lv, Kuangou), Quan Ren (Political Instructor), Yan Tang (Sun, Guiqin), Baoqiang Wang (Maocai Jiang), Wenkang Yuan (Wang - Jincun), Hanyu Zhang (Gu, Zidi), Shaokang Zhao (Lao Ciwei).
set in 1948 during the Chinese Civil War
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
1948, Winter, northeast China. Over the loudspeaker Captain Gu Zidi of the communist forces shouts: "Our brothers of the Nationalists' 168th Division. This is Captain Gu Zidi of the 139th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, 9th company, the Special Second Division of the Liberation Army. You are completely surrounded." There is no reply at all. So the Captain tells Lt. Jiao to take six men and get a closer look at what is happening in the enemy camp. The place looks deserted. But all of a sudden, from the second floor of a building, machine guns and other fire opens up on the six men. The rest of the company comes to the rescue. Someone shouts that it's an ambush, as explosives planted around the courtyard explode. Many men are killed. The unit is totally outgunned. Artillery shells start blasting away at the walls behind which the communist soldiers are hiding.
But the communists throw an explosive satchel into the second floor of another building. A Nationalist soldier tries to throw it out, but is shot dead. The satchel explodes killing a number of Nationalist troops. The Captain then organizes a counter-attack and soon the Nationalist troops surrender.
Out of 117 communist troops, there are only 46 left. And the Political Officer was blown in half. The Captain wants to shoot the Nationalist troops, but the soldiers refuse to follow that order. The Captain has to step back. The Captain, however, does take the Nationalist uniforms and distributes them among the men.
The Division Commander has ordered that Captain Gu Zidi be punished for ordering that the P.O.W.s to be killed and for taking the uniforms of the Nationalists. The 9th Company's troops will be transferred to the regiment's Advanced Guard. Gu Zidi will be locked up for three days.
In jail the Captain meets another soldier, Wang Jincun. He used to be a teacher. Gu Zidi asks him if he was the teacher that pissed his pants during a battle and was punished. Yes, he is. The Captain tells him it's not that important.
Gu Zidi will be moved to the front. Colonel Liu tells the Captain that his assignment is to take the old mine battlefield that is higher than the north bank of the Wen River. Gu Zidi asks for artillery, Maxim machineguns and more men because now he has only half a company. The Colonel tells him no. All the men have already been deployed. So, he asks that be allowed to take Wang Jincun with him as his Political Officer. He would be the only man in the company who can read and write. The Colonel says alright, but they must keep fighting until they hear the call for assembly. If they do not hear the assembly call then they must keep fighting to the last man.
Gu Zidi introduces the company Political Officer to the men. They give him only a half-hearted reception so the Captain demands that they give him a strong applause. They comply. All of a sudden, massive shelling begins. It is devastating the troops, so the Captain tells them all to go into the mine nearby. After the artillery ceases firing, the troops come out again and get into their trenches. The Nationalist troops are charging them now across an open field. The Captain demands that his men wait until the enemy is virtually on top of them. When the enemy gets close, the men open fire on them. A lot of the men go down fast. The communists even kill the Nationalist officer leading the charge.
The Political Officer is having a really rough time. He sees dead men around him and gets very upset. And when he moves he keeps getting knocked down by explosions.
Tanks are approaching their position. Gu Zidi calls for the mountain gun, but he has a hard time hitting a tank with it. The tanks start unleashing considerable devastation among the troops. Finally, the Captain is able to hit a tank with the mountain gun and it is put out of commission. Molotov cocktails are brought up and thrown at the tanks and many are set afire. The Political Officer shoots and kills a machine gunner on top of one of the tanks. Lt. Jiao prepares to throw a Molotov cocktail when a round goes through his raised hand and he drops the cocktail. The bottle explodes and badly burns the lieutenant. One of the guys who is very scared tells the Captain that he heard the bugle call assembly. Since the Captain's hearing is impaired he asks others if they heard it. Some of the men say they heard it, while others say they did not hear it. The unit is now down to 15 fighting men. One of the the soldiers yells that they have to get out of her or they'll all be killed. The Captain tells his men: "I can't order a retreat. Sorry, guys." He tells the men to leave if they heard the assembly call. No one leaves.
The Nationalist attack again. But this time the communists explode the satchels they planted around the area. A lot of Nationalist troops are killed or maimed. Then the Captain calls for his men to charge.
The entire 9th Company was sacrificed in the battle. Only Captain Gu Zidi survived. As the Captain was dressed in the Nationalist uniform, he was take prisoner by the communist forces that found him.
Two months later. An investigator comes to the hospital to interview the Captain. The female doctor says that Gu Zidi is suffering from shell shock and is emotionally unstable. But his physical wounds have largely healed. The investigator tells the Captain that the problem is that the hospital cannot verify his true identity.
One day an officer comes into the hospital recovery rooms and asks for men experienced with artillery. Gu Zidi raises his hand, so he is grabbed. The artillery officer, however, has his doubts about the new recruit. He asks him some technical questions about artillery and Gu Zidi cannot answer the questions. The officer tells a subordinate officer to take him away. Frustrated, the Captain starts telling the story of what happened at the Battle of Wen River. At the end of the story the superior officer tells the subordinate officer to let the man stay.
1951, Korean War, Hoensong gun, North Korea. American tanks are assembling across the river. Gu Zidi goes out on a scouting trip. The scouts are dressed as South Koreans soldiers. The officer with the patrol, named Er Dour, steps on a land mine. Gu Zidi goes into action. He is able to free the captain, but now Gu Zidi faces being blown up as he keeps the pressure on the igniter. Two American tanks come along the road. They see what they think are South Koreans. The Chinese stay very calm. One of the tank drivers gets out to ask directions to Hoensong gun. But when he sees the land mine situation, he quickly leaves and the two tanks move on.
The scouting unit finds a large grouping of Americans and calls artillery on the position. Gu Zidi is still holding onto the mine igniter. He thinks about what happened to his men at the Battle of Wen River.
1955. The Wen River Battle Site. Captain Gu Zidi gets off a bus near the site of the battle. Many people are there trying to get stipends from the government for losses of family members in the recent wars. A family can get 700 pounds of rice if they have a deceased family member who was a war hero. Gu Zidi walks around the area. He suddenly hears a woman mentioning the name of his Political Officer. She is trying to establish her claim for a stipend, but is not having an easy time of it, since her husband is listed as Missing in Action. Gu Zidi touches her on the shoulder and tells her he knows what happened to her husband.
He and the woman, Sun Guigin, try to find the battlefield. But since coal is now being mined in the area again, the entire landscape looks very different. Gu Zidi has a hard time. Some others show him a mine entrance. He goes in only to find that it is not the mine his men were in. Sun asks him directly how her husband died. Gu Zidi says he was hit by a tiny piece of shrapnel in a vital spot. He says you couldn't even see his wound. He just looked like he was sleeping.
Sun Guigin and Gu Zidi go to the war cemetery to see if they can identify any of the head stones. But it quickly becomes clear to them that all the headstones are for anonymous soldiers.
Gu Zidi needs help for Sun Guigin and so he has the guards call Colonel Er Dour to come down. The officer comes down. He owes Gu Zidi since he saved the officer's leg(s) from the land mine in the Korean War. Gu Zidi tells the Colonel that Sun Guigin has a fever and needs to be hospitalized. The Colonel gets her into the military hospital. As they wait for Sun Guigin's temperature to go down, Gu Zidi asks the Colonel for three favors.
The first favor is to get him a job transfer. The Colonel says this is not a good idea. When the land mine exploded, a piece of shrapnel went into Gu Zidi's head. Sooner of later he'll go completely blind.
The second favor is for the Colonel to help him find the remains of his company. The Colonel says that is a near impossible favor to fulfill.
The third favor is to take Sun Guigin as his wife. And if the Colonel has any trouble with the right words, he will speak on his behalf to Sun Guigin.
Some time later Gu Zidi attends the wedding of Er Dour and Sun Guigin.
Some country officials asks Gu Zidi a lot of questions. He gets mad at them, curses at them out and then throws a chair at them. The officials quickly get out of the room. The Colonel is just outside the room and when he see his friend he tells help to try to cooperate. Gu Zidi just says: "It's unfair! It's unfair!"
Now Gu Zidi is nearly blind. But he still climbs up ladders to the top of a military observation post. Sun Guigin comes out to speak to her friend. She shouts to him that they have found his old regiment. Gu Zidi cryies as he descends the ladder.
Gu Zidi, the Colonel and his wife go out to a military cemetery to lay some offerings at the grave of his old Colonel Liu. Gu Zidi is met there by the bugler for the regiment. The bugler has lost his left arm in the war. Gu Zidi says to him: "You twerp. You're still alive?" He tells the bugler that at the Battle of Wen River he never did hear the bugle call and ever since he has felt very guilty for it for he lost his whole company. The bugler tells him: "But I never blew the assembly call." Colonel Liu never ordered the assembly call. He was afraid of facing the Nationalist troops and thought that Gu Zidi could hold off these Nationalist soldiers until the communist troops made their get-away.
At this news, Gu Zidi goes a bit crazy. He screams at the grave: "What about us?" He is very mad at that "damn Liu". He shouts that he was waiting for that bugle call. A fight nearly breaks out between the bugler, who was also Colonel's Liu's bodyguard, and Gu Zidi. The Colonel has to intervene to stop them. The Colonel tells the bugler to let the angry Gu Zidi scream at the grave to get it out of his system and he tells Gu Zidi that what's done is done.
One of things Gu Zidi is most mad about is that the military has classified his men as being MIA (missing in action). He knows they all died fighting in the civil war. Gu Zidi goes back to the battlefield site and the coal mine there. He starts digging in the coal mine hill. The foreman tries to make him stop digging, but Gu Zidi refuses. The foreman has to call the military out to try to take the old veteran away. But Gu Zidi refuses to quit digging. So everyone agrees to let him continue working away and they will just work around him.
Sun Guigin comes out to visit her friend. The foreman tells her that he has gone crazy. He shows here the miner's hut where he lives. Sun Guigin goes out to see Gu Zidi who continues to dig. She says she has a letter of notification from the military for him. She reads the letter to him. This is a notification of the Martyrdom of Revolutionary Heroes. Everyone of the 9th Company is to be designated revolutionary heroes and will receive medals of valor. The letter is dated 19 December 1956.
Flashback. The Political Officer and Gu Zidi are the only ones left to face the next Nationalist attack. Gu Zidi has placed satchels near the mine entrance and gives the igniter to his Political Officer, saying that the enemy must not get their hands on our brothers. The Political Officer asks: "I didn't disgrace you, did I, Captain?" Tears come to the eyes of Gu Zidi and he tussles the Political Officer's hair with his hand. Gu Zidi comes out of the mine to face the enemy. The Political Officer blows the mine entrance.
Outside Gu Zidi uses the mountain gun to blow up a Nationalist tank. At virtually the same time a tank shell lands near Gu Zidi and he goes down from the shrapnel.
In the winter of 1958, a reservoir was built on the south bank of the mine for the Wen River irrigation project. During the construction, within a collapsed mine tunnel, the bodies of 47 men were found.
A monument is built to the 47 dead of 9th Company. There is a medal of valor for Gu Zidi and the 47 other men. The dead are given a 21 gun salute and the bugle sounds for the deceased.
"In 1987 Gu Zidi passed away at the Wen River Personnel Retirement home. He was 71 years old. At three months of age, he was abandoned by his parents, who starved to death fleeing the famine. He was found by a shoemaker laying in a millet field, known in Chinese as "guzidi". He was known by this name from then on."
Good war movie. The battle scenes are realistic and brutal. But it's not war all the time. A lot of time is spend on the Captain of the 9th Company desperately trying to get the status of his soldiers who were killed in battle changed from "missing in action" to died in battle. It is never easy trying to fight bureaucracy, especially a military bureaucracy. But can a man who was a little too gung ho for war be patient enough to accomplish his objective?
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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