It was pulled from a film festival, censored by the state and now it’s the year’s second biggest film. Is The Eight Hundred an exhilarating war movie – or slick propaganda?
‘No one knows how this history will be written,” a soldier muses portentously in the new Chinese blockbuster The Eight Hundred. If he could see 80 years into the future, he would have the answer: as an epic, effects-enhanced patriotic action movie. While the rest of the world’s cinemas are still in coronavirus recovery mode, most of China’s 70,000 screens have been open since early August, and The Eight Hundred is a sign it no longer needs Hollywood content to fill them.
It has been compared to western war movies such as Dunkirk (although there is more than a touch of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor in there), and so far it has taken more than $400m (£308m) at the box office, making it the second-highest-grossing movie of the year worldwide. The Eight Hundred draws attention to the meteoric progress of China’s increasingly blockbuster-oriented film industry, but also to the Chinese government’s determination to stamp its authority on it. The two might be on a collision course.