Devils on the Doorstep (2000)
Director: Wen Jiang.
Starring: Wen Jiang (Ma Dasan), Yihong Jiang (Yu'er), Teruyuki Kagawa (Kosaburo Hanaya), Ding Yuan (Dong Hanchen), Zhijun Cong (Grandfather), Zi Xi (Liu Wang), Haibin Li (Me), Kenya Sawada (Inokichi Sakatsuka), Weidong Cai (Er Bozi), Lianmei Chen (Aunt), Yoshimoto Miyaji (Koji Nonomura), Qiang Chen ('One-Stroke' Liu), David Wu (Major Gao).
Chinese villagers hold two Japanese prisoners of war
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
1945. North China under Japanese occupation.
Dusan Ma is a poor Chinese peasant. His brother has died and he now makes loves to his sister-in-law who has one child called Little Thresher. One night some one holds a gun to the head of Dusan Ma and tells him that he must accept two prisoners of war: one a Japanese soldier and the other a Chinese translator working for the Japanese. Dusan Ma must hold them for five days, until the arrival of New Year's Eve. Then the unknown gunman will return for his prisoners. In the meanwhile, the stranger tells Dusan Ma that he should interrogate the soldiers.
Everyday in the morning and in the evening the Japanese band marches blaring away with the same old tune heading down and then back up the mountain top where they have a blockhouse. This presents a real danger to Dusan Ma.
Dusan Ma is very afraid not to do as he was told. He talks to his friend Er Bozi and tells him what happened. He swears his friend to secrecy. Above all he is not to tell his mother, who is quite the busybody. But soon most of the village comes to know of the two prisoners. A group from the village decide to interrogate the prisoners. The name of the Japanese soldier is Kosaburo Hanaya. Kosaburo is a typical Japanese soldier fanatic. He wants to live by the warrior code of the Bushido. It is a shameful thing to let oneself be captured. One must die resisting or kill oneself. Kosaburo decides to try to kill himself by bashing his head against hard surfaces. Failing in his attempts at suicide, he has the Chinese translator teach him curse words to shout at his Chinese hosts so that they will shoot him. But the translator does not teach curse words to Kosaburo, but rather nice, polite sayings. Of course, Kosaburo says the polite sayings in such a bitter and hateful way that he confuses his Chinese hosts.
One day two Japanese soldiers show up. They try to catch one of the chickens of Dusan Ma in order to eat it. While they are at it, they try to terrorize the Chinese villagers. To prevent them from finding their prisoners, Dusan Ma volunteers to feed the soldiers. Instead of feeding them chicken, he feeds them cut-up frogs. But the Japanese soldiers leave pleased with the dinner and the amount of fear they instilled in the poor villagers.
It has now been six months that Dusan Ma has held his two prisoners. Liu Wang tells Dusan Ma and the others that Captain Five said to kill the prisoners. But Dusan Ma has no stomach for killing the men he has kept alive for half a year. So it is decided to draw lots to decide who will kill the two men. Dusan Ma is the man who draws the short straw so to speak.
The deed is declared done. This upsets his sister-in-law and she moves back to her father's house with her young boy. Dusan Ma comes to her house and shouts at her "I did not kill anyone!" He pretended that he killed them, but he spared their lives. This pleases the woman and she moves back in with him.
The villagers are upset when they learn that the two prisoners of war have not been killed. Dusan Ma begs some one of the others to kill the two men. But the other men don't want to do the job either. So Dusan Ma goes to find an assassin. He visits a gun man who is known as a reliable hit man. But the man tells Dusan Ma that the job calls not for a gun man, but for a swordsman. The heads of the prisoners must be chopped off. They visit Old Man Liu who agrees to do the job. Old Man Liu sets the stage for the executions, but after he strikes with his sword the men are still alive. The Old Man is humiliated and leaves saying that it is just not time for the two prisoners to die.
The villagers learn that Kosaburo is not a samurai, but a peasant like them. The Chinese laugh at the pretenses of the Japanese soldier. Kosaburo suggests that the Chinese make a deal with the Japanese for him: the return of the two prisoners for two carts of grain. The villagers have the two prisoners sign a written agreement concerning the terms of the exchange. They then go to see the Japanese.
The Japanese are shocked to discover that Kosaburo is alive. And they are also very upset. He was supposed to be dead. In his village back in Japan he has become a hero to his village. Now Kosaburo has caused the loss of face for both his village and the army. They decide to hold the Chinese villagers while they interrogate, humiliate and beat Kosaburo.
The Japanese commander decides that they must honor the agreement signed on August 15, 1945. He says the Japanese are more honorable than the Chinese. They demand to know what Chinese person signed the agreement. Dusan Ma steps forward. They decide to give him the two carts of grain for the prisoner plus four more carts filled with grain.
The Japanese soldiers help the Chinese bring the carts filled with grain back to their village. They decide to all celebrate together. Everything goes pretty well until the Japanese commander suggests to the Chinese that they shoot Kosaburo. The commander starts to become madder and madder as the festivities contilnue and the situation starts to become dangerous. Then the commander tells his men to kill the villagers. The Japanese band leader kills Little Thresher. The command is given to burn the village and the grain. Dusan Ma and his sister-in-law, rowing to the village, see it ablaze. (It appears that the Japanese commander just found out that Japan had surrendered following the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan.)
Forty-six Japanese prisoners-of-war are taken. The Chinese translator is executed with a shot to the head. Dusan Ma runs into the two sadistic Japanese soldiers who had earlier humiliated him and his friends. Dusan Ma becomes enraged and starts chasing the men with a weapon. He kills one of the two soldiers and then chases the other into the prisoner of war encampment where he dispatches several other Japanese soldiers.
Major Gao of the Chinese army decides to execute Dusan Ma for his deeds. The job is given to the Japanese Inokichi Sakatsuko, but he in turn gives the job to Kosaburo. Kosaburo willingly cuts off the head of the man who saved his life, Dusan Ma.
Good movie. Both my wife and I enjoyed the movie. In the beginning and for most of the movie comedy reigns as the Chinese villagers try to figure out what to do with their two prisoners. But then the hero Dusan Ma makes a very big mistake. He decides to try to make a deal with the Japanese. My wife and I both said to each other that the man is an idiot. Doesn't he know you can't trust the Japanese? They are sick people with a twisted, merciless warrior code that approves brutality toward other human beings as a sacrifice to the Japanese sense of honor and obedience to the Japanese emperor, who was supposed to be a god. The Japanese were sadistic and cruel throughout the war and no one should have ever trusted them. But Dusan Ma decides to try to exchange his Japanese prisoner for grain. What results is a Japanese massacre of many of the village inhabitants and the burning of both the grain and the village.
It seems cruel for the Chinese to behead Dusan Ma and not execute the Japanese commander who was the leader of the massacre. One could argue that Dusan Ma had temporarily gone crazy due to what the Japanese had done to him. But the cruelty of the Japanese far surpassed that of their Chinese victims.
The movie is a testament to just how crazed and cruel was Imperial Japan. The Japanese code of Bushido let to their own arrogance and blindness, which led them to their own destruction. The Japanese themselves recognized just how wrong the path was that they had followed when they adopted a constitution that rejected Japanese militarism. Let us never forget the horrible war crimes committed by the Japanese. This movie helps us remember that cruelty in the hope that it never be repeated.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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