As of Sunday, the 147-minute film has earned 805 million yuan combined box office of advanced and official screenings, propelling it to the top of China's box office charts for a week.
Guan first heard the story about 800 heroes' defense of the Sihang Warehouse in Shanghai from his father, a former soldier with the Eighth Route Army. Over a decade, he has been trying to bring the legend to the big screen.
It's worth revisiting the history behind The Eight Hundred.
Near the end of the Battle of Shanghai during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, Xie Jinyuan — deputy chief of the 524th Regiment, 88th Division of the Chinese army — was entrusted with the mission to lead more than 420 soldiers to stay in Zhabei district, in order to cover the major forces' retreat to the west. To mislead the Japanese enemy, Xie claimed he had 800 soldiers, thus making The Eight Hundred a respectable title kept for over eight decades to mark the war heroes.
A six-story reinforced concrete building, the Sihang Warehouse is located on the north bank of Suzhou River. Across the Suzhou River stretches the Xizang Road bridge, once called "Garbage Bridge". On the other side of the bridge, or on the south bank of the Suzhou River, were foreign concessions that remained neutral in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and protected many Shanghai civilians.
When Xie's troop entered the warehouse, the soldiers could look through the bullet-ridden windows and see the southern bank shrouded in bright lights. The contrast creates a strong dramatic effect.
Just as it is said by a character in the movie, one side is the heaven and the other side is the hell.
What makes The Eight Hundred excel most domestic war films is that it doesn't merely praise the heroes who sacrifice their lives to protect Chinese people, but also focuses on the transformation of ordinary people. The movie depicts how the glory of humanity emerges when grassroots soldiers are forced into extreme situations.
In the film, some soldier characters are not heroes at the beginning. For instance, Wang Qianyuan-starring Yangguai is a hooligan-like veteran; Jiang Wu-starring Laotie is a coward who didn't dare to shoot Japanese; Zhang Yi-starring Lao Suanpan is a shrewd deserter; and Ou Hao's character Duanwu is a rural boy who is curious about Shanghai's metropolis life.
From being pulled into the war to volunteering to join the suicide battles, all these characters fulfill their redemption at the end of the film. I believe everyone will be moved and appreciate the peace earned by the martyrs.
One of the most touching moments for me is when the Japanese soldiers driving a tank approach the Sihang Warehouse, Zheng Kai-starring soldier Chen Shusheng attaches explosives onto his body. After saying his last words — "It's my glory to sacrifice my life for the justice" — the character jumps out off the sixth floor to stop the Japanese attack.
The film's shooting procedure was touching and enduring for director Guan.
Within 18 months, the crew built a replica of the warehouse, over 60 buildings, and dug a trench to introduce water from nearby Yangcheng Lake, turning it into a 200-meter-long "river", which is shown in the movie as a section of the Suzhou River.
Entirely filmed with state-of-the-art IMAX cameras, the first time in China, the film was shot over 230 days in a location covering an area of more than 130,000 square meters in suburban Suzhou, Jiangsu province, between September 2017 and April 2018.
Most insiders have high praise for the film.
Director Feng Xiaogang called the film a path-breaker amid the COVID-19 impact, and said it will revive the market and lift the morale of all Chinese filmmakers.
Cheng Wu, CEO of Tencent Pictures, recalled that when he received the script, he read it in one breath and cried several times. "It's sort of a milestone in the Chinese war film genre. It's bound to leave an important mark in the Chinese film history."
词：张承/尹约/Bob Ezrin/Shridhar Solanki
I hear your song over the settling dust and smoke
Facing each other across the Suzhou River, we wish for no more clamor of war
The twilight is up, ballads chanting all around
Till the dawn breaks, country roads take us home
For the winds of peace, we are willing to fight and sacrifice
Best friends are gone, their spirits forever last
Homeland is burning, guardians rush to frontline
I can die with no regrets, because your smile always fills my heart
I lie awake
Beside the rolling water
Long for the day
When peace will come for all
I still recall
The smile we gave each other
It reminds me of the life we're fighting for
I hear your song
My sister and my brother. It fills my heart
It's with me everywhere
I won't forget
Our promise to each other
I will remember I am here
For you were there
I will be there. You'll never be alone
And we will share our dream of peace together
Until the morning comes
And we are finally home