China Can’t Handle the Truth of ‘The Eight Hundred’

"The Eight Hundred"

One of the greatest Chinese victories of the World War II era won't be coming to theaters because big-budget movie "The Eight Hundred,” which portrays a critical 1937 battle in Shanghai during the Sino-Japanese war that later became a critical front in WWII, shows a victory by the "wrong" Chinese troops.

Hot on the heels of its canceled screening at the Shanghai Film Festival, the Chinese studio Huayi Brothers Media has announced that the movie has vacated its July 5th release date.

During the battle some 400 Chinese citizens that included soldiers, deserters and civilians holed up in a warehouse and defended it against Japanese troops to give the main Chinese forces time to escape further into the mainland.

Here's the problem: The heroes of "The Eight Hundred" happen to be Kuomintang instead of Communist.

The film reportedly has an $80 million budget, an enormous sum for the Chinese film industry. Because costs are so much lower there, studio money goes a lot further and it's estimated that the film's Hollywood budget would've been at least $160 million. Producers hired Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Tim Crosbie ("X-Men: Days of Future Past") and veteran action coordinator Glenn Boswell ("The Matrix," "The Hobbit") to give the production a first-class sheen.

So why was the highly-anticipated and surefire blockbuster squashed? This October marks the 70th anniversary of the Mao Zedong's Communist Party victory over the Kuomintang Chinese Nationalist forces, an event celebrated as the birth of the People's Republic of China. In the lead up to the celebration, government censors have worked hard to make sure everyone in China follows the correct narrative, and “The Eight Hundred” does not.

It's no matter that total Japanese victory in China might have changed the outcome of WWII and made Mao a footnote to history. The movie shows the "wrong" Chinese in a good light and the government doesn't seem to trust its citizens to understand the context.

Will anyone ever see "The Eight Hundred"? It's hard to predict. Chinese authorities likely won't prevent foreign exhibition if they won't release it in China. And, since it's based on history, it's hard to imagine any edits that could change the story to fit the current government narrative. "The Eight Hundred" might just become the greatest war movie that no one ever saw.

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