Monday, August 25, 2014

Film Review: Devils on the Doorstep (2000)

Devils on the Doorstep (Review)
China/2000
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...brilliant blend of black humor and war drama..."

During the final years of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese peasant Ma Dasan (Jiang Wen) is forced by a mysterious man -- at gunpoint -- to take custody of and interrogate two Japanese prisoners.

Devils on the Doorstep follows Ma Dasan and the other villagers as they deal with the two prisoners, who are from the Japanese army. One is a self-preserving translator and the other is an arrogant and vicious soldier. Dasan and the villagers basically interrogate and hide the prisoners from the occupying Japanese army, and each set of characters face their own conflicts and arcs. This brilliant blend of black humor and war drama leads to a mesmerizing climax and awe-inspiring ending.

The story may seem simple, but it's actually really deep. The characters are complex and interesting, and there is plenty of story to fill the two hour fifteen minute runtime. It's a spectacular balance of black humor and drama. The humor is black, but not irreverent or offensive; I laughed out loud more than a few times. The drama is emotionally powerful -- the type of drama that conjures that lump in your throat, the one that's hard to swallow. It balances both elements well to deliver a moderately paced and and, well, balanced film.

Fans of historical films will like this one the most. I thought it was very insightful and interesting. It's even more surprising knowing the film was produced in China. This isn't a film that outright demonizes the Japanese, like many other Chinese war films have in the past. Instead, this film focuses on telling an entertaining and effective story, and subtly delivers its social commentary -- a commentary about people and the society at the time. Definitely a film to make you think, and maybe even make you study up on the subject.

The acting is all-around superb. Jiang Wen, who also directs, delivers a standout performance; a strong pillar for a powerful film. The rest of the acting is also impressive, especially considering there aren't many big names attached -- I think it made the film feel more raw and realistic. The soundtrack is superb, I loved the traditional music, and I also loved the music during the credits. The film looks beautiful; the black-and-white helps the film stand the test of time, and it helps give the film a distinct style. Director Jiang Wen masterfully crafts a vivid portrait of people during war time; his direction is magnificent.

Overall, Devils on the Doorstep is a masterpiece. It's an immensely entertaining film thanks to its black humor, and it's emotionally-powerful thanks to its meticulously crafted drama and story. The film is also a technical marvel featuring magnificent direction and acting from Jiang Wen, elegant cinematography, and lovely music. It's a must-watch film.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some brief sex and nudity.

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