Hong he gu (Red River Valley;
aka The Tale of the Sacred Mountain) (1997)
Director: Xiaoning Feng.
Starring: Jing Ning, Bing Shao, Zhen Ying, Paul Kersey (Jones), Nicholas Love (Colonel Rockman).
British incursion into Tibet in 1904
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
1900. A Tibetan tells the story of his people. The people found his mother frozen solid. He was just a baby then. He grew up on his grandmother's back. She carried him far away to a Lamasery to give him a name.
In order to get some very needed rain, the Han Chinese are offering sacrifices. They slide a cow into the raging river below the cliff and then a goat. A young woman is then slid into the muddy waters. A second young woman is to be slid into the river, but she is saved by her brother Hong and some of his friends.
The little boy is taken to the Lamasery.
Hong and his sister flee with their three helpers. The Chinese fire their weapons at the group of five and kill the three assistants. Brother and sister get away. They are in the middle of a swaying rope bridge over the river when Chinese troops follow them onto the bridge. The sister grabs her brother's sword and starts cutting all the ropes of the bridge. Severing the ropes, everyone falls into the river below.
Grandmother and the young boy find the exhausted sister on the river bank. They bring her home to their tent. Her name is Snow Dawa. A young man named Gesang arrives and finds that they have a guest in their tent. Geseng and Snow are soon very close friends.
The British have sent out an expedition to Tibet. The man in charge is Major Rockman. He had fought his way into Beijing, China with the Allied forces not long ago. Mr. Jones has come with the expedition because of his great skills in languages. They are headed to the Palace of the Goddess.
Confronted with some hostile Tibetans, Major Rockman fires his rifle into the air. This causes an avalanche that buries everyone. Snow goes to check on the avalanche and sees a hand sticking up out of the snow. She and Gesang are able to save Major Rockman and Jones.
The two explorers are tied to a huge barrel of gunpowder. Gesang is the one who has to light the long fuse. At this time a messenger arrives with the note to keep foreigners out, but these two explorers have special passports from the Great Qing Emperor himself. Gesang saves the day by putting out the fuse with a rock shot from his sling shot. Rockman is released and leaves. Before he goes he gives a fancy cigarette lighter to Gesang. Jones has to stay behind because his health is not up to it as of yet.
The Tibetan Princess sees Gesang and she takes a liking to him. She asks him to kill a bird for her, but he refuses. She is intrigued by him because no one disobeys her. Jones takes a liking to the Princess. He gives her his binoculars with which she is very thrilled.
Gesang returns to Snow. He mentions that papa's papa said that King Gesar once fought a battle here. "We Tibetans were very strong then." Jones came with Gesang and he says that was 1,000 years ago.
Snow takes a bath in the lake. Gesang comes racing across the plains, jumps into the water and pulls her out. Unbeknownst to her, she violated a Tibetan custom. There are certain set times when one can bathe. With her binoculars Princess can see Gesang and Snow riding on his horse.
Grandmother and Snow go to the market. She trades some animal furs to buy Snow a poxi. A young woman wears a poxi with a new dress. She can give the poxi to someone she loves. Jones teaches Snow how to dance western style.
Princess invites Gesang and Jones on a hunt. During the hunt, Princess tells Gesang that her father wants her to marry Daiban, a commander in Lhasa.
Princess sees Snow by herself. She tells Snow that she hears that she is a Han Chinese. Princess also mention that a marriage must be approved by the chief, so Snow better not disturb her. Snow is very defiant and on another occasion when everyone else is bowing to the Princess, she remains standing. The Princess sees her but says nothing. Jones is to leave with Daiban. Princess gets Gesang drunk and Snow comes over to stop Gesang from becoming even more drunk. Gesang falls down drunk. The Princess gives the same drink to Jones and he passes out too. Later Jones waves goodbye to the Princess.
Back in India, now Colonel Rockman tells Jones that the Tibetans need a savior; they need the British empire.
At a shooting contest, Gesang wins. But then a newcomer arrives with a pistol and not only knocks down all five targets, but does so by shooting the strings that held the targets in place. The stranger turns out to be Hong, the brother of Snow. Hong goes out to visit Gesang and his sister. He tells Gesang that he is the brother of Snow and he wants to take Snow back with him to China. Snow shakes her head no. Hong goes to Yadong. The very upset Gesang drinks the night away.
There is a terrific storm outside. Snow tries to drive a yak in but falls in a thin mud hole and cannot get out. The more she struggles the faster she goes under. All of a sudden Gesang and Grandmother have a feeling that something is wrong. She tells Gesang to get going and find her. With the help of the family dog, Gesang finds Snow. And then with the help of a rope, he pulls her out of the mud hole. He holds her tight after he rescues her.
In India Colonel Rockman tells Jones that he is going out on a second expedition to Tibet. Jones is invited to come along as a Second Lieutenant. Jones is thrilled to get the chance to return to Tibet. He still carries a photo of the Princess with him. The stated objective of the expedition is to enforce the existing trade agreement. Rockman tells Jones that China is like a mature fruit ready to fall. If the British don't go in, someone else will. After all, Tibet is the last virgin territory.
The Princess and her father are told that Hong and his sister Snow are two criminal at large. His offense is that he sells weapons to the rebels in the name of commerce.
Snow tells Gesang that now that her brother's secret weapons trade has been discovered, she cannot hide here any longer. One morning the Princess arrives. With her is Hong. Snow has to go with Hong. She cries to leave Grandmother and Grandson. Gesang is devastated. But as he sinks into depression Snow comes riding up. She will not leave him.
Just then the British approach. A group of horsemen come riding up to tell them to leave. Rockman answers with cannon blasts that kill all four riders. Other cannon blasts destroy Gesant's family tent and kill the family dog. After that bit of violence, the Brits have the nerve to face the Tibetan army carrying a white flag. Daiban negotiates with the British. Rockman explains that he is offering him a ceasefire so they can work out any differences between them. He adds that Tibet should be free of the Chinese. Since Daiban isn't buying what Rockman is selling, the Scotsman starts threatening Daiban with force. But Daiban won't agree to do what Rockman wants and when he turns to shout orders to his army Daiban is shot in the back and killed.
The battle starts. But the Brits are very up-to-date technologically speaking. They use artillery fire and machines guns to tear the Tibetan ranks apart. This is followed by an attack by British cavalry and the onslaught of British infantry. Almost every Tibetan has been killed or wounded. Jones goes through the dead. The British destroyed 1,500 Tibetans in fifteen minutes.
Gesang escaped the slaughter. He goes back to his family tent and sets what's left of it on fire.
What remains of the Tibetan military forces on horseback attacks the British. The machine guns and artillery open up on them. Jones tells Rockman: "This is not a battle! This is slaughter."
Colonel Rockman speaks with the Princess and her father. He explains that their main force is headed to Lasha. The Tibetan army has been destroyed. He adds that Tibet should be set free of the Chinese. But the Princess and her father will not give in to Rockman.
The palace is now hit by artillery fire. Then the infantry attacks. Gesang is there to fight the British. He kills some soldiers, but is about to be killed by a British soldier when the Princess shoots the enemy soldier. Gesang informs the ruler that there are no more bullets left. Gesang can only watch as he sees the Buddhist monks mowed down by machine gun fire. Also in the fight is Hong and Snow, but Snow is knocked out when the wall next to her explodes after it is hit by an artillery shell. Hong is killed in the battle.
Jones was opposed to the slaughter and did not fire his weapon. The British have now captured the Princess. Jones tells Rockman that he is the senior butcher of the expedition. He has to be restrained by other British soldiers. Rockman starts striping her clothes off. Her father becomes so infuriated that he launches an attack with his small group. They are all cut down by the machine guns. The Princess sings to her troops and they sing back to her. Gesang readies himself to shoot the Princess, but then the Princess's yak goes crazy and attacks Rockman and the group of men around him. Rockman is able to save himself at the last few seconds by emptying his pistol into the head of the yak.
Meanwhile, the Princess has grabbed an artillery shell. Rockman tells her no, don't do it, but she drops the shell onto a pile of artillery shells. There is a tremendous explosion that kills not only the Princess, but many British soldiers as well.
Rockman tells Jones to take a piece of artillery up the mountain on the side of the palace and start shelling what remains of the palace from there. Jones is unwilling, but Rockman forces him to go. He tells Jones to get himself a guide up the mountain. Jones picks out Grandmother's grandson to be his guide. But the grandson leads the soldiers with the artillery cannon into the marsh with the mud holes. The men with the cannon fall into a large mud hole and sink below the surface quickly. Jones is very upset and takes out his pistol to kill the grandson. But he doesn't fire his weapon.
Jones returns to Rockman, but acts so strangely, that Rockman tells his men that Jones has battle fatigue: "Take him away!"
Preparing to defend the castle, Gesang tells Snow to go, but she refuses to leave him. The Brits charge. Snow is mortally wounded. Gesang runs over to hold her. Rockman and his troops arrive at the site. Snow dies. Gesang takes out the silver cigarette lighter that Rockman gave him. He lights it and then drops it on the floor which is wet with gasoline. The fires light the British soldiers on fire. Then the whole palace explodes as the fires reach the gunpowder barrels placed around the palace.
Jones is still alive. And he still has the photo of the Princess with him. He starts to shoot himself in the head with his pistol, but suddenly sees the sacred mountain. He screams: "I saw the sacred mountain!" He then sees Grandmother and Grandson.
Jones asks himself why should the British destroy the Tibetan civilization with their own? He says one thing is for sure. The Tibetans will never give up and never disappear and the immense land behind them is Asia which the British will never conquer.
Good movie. I enjoyed it. Good love story, but it seems it's against the rules to have a happy ending in these Chinese historical films.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
late 19th century -- Britain became interested in Tibet again. Indians from British India went there as explorers and latter as traders.
1886 -- treaty between Britain and China regarding Tibet.
1890 -- another treaty regarding Tibet.
1893 -- still another treaty regarding Tibet.
1893 -- the Tibetan government refused to recognize the legitimacy of British envoys and barred their entry.
1813-1907 -- this was the period known as "The Great Game" in which Britain fought Russia for control over central Asia. The British wanted to be able to watch what the Russians were up to and to offset any Russian influence in Asia.
1903 -- a British expedition led by Colonel Francis Younghusband was sent to Tibet to force a trading agreement. Another goal was to prevent Tibet from establishing a relationship with Russia. (China responds to this great interest in Tibet by saying they were sovereign over Tibet.)
1903 (December) -- The expediltion left for Tibet with over 3,000 soldiers and 7,000 sherpas, porters and camp followers.
1903 (December 6) -- the Tibetans and the British agree not to fire on each other.
1904 (March 31) -- at a mountain pass halfway to Gyantse near a village called Guru, Colonel Younghusband tricked 2,000 Tibetan soldiers guarding the pass into extinguishing the burning ropes of their matchlock rifles. After they had done this, the British opened up on them with their machine guns and rifles, killing or wounding 500 Tibetans. (Some sources say the Tibetan casualties were up to 1,3000.)
1904 (July 6) -- the British attack the massive Dzong fortress at Gyantse. They finally blow a hole in the wall and after a few attempts get inside the wall. The Tibetans abandon the fortress to the British.
When the British reached Lhasa, Younghusband discovered that the Dalai Lama had already fled to Urga, Mongolia. So he unilaterally drew up a trade treaty. The treaty demanded that Tibet open itself up to the British. They were also to pay 2.5 million rupees as indemnity.
1906 -- the 1904 treaty was confirmed by a Sino-British treaty. Britain agreed not to interfere in the administration of Tibet.
1907 -- Britain and Russia agreed that China controlled Tibet and that neither nation would enter negotiations with Tibet except through the Chinese government.
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