Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sino-Dutch War 1661 (2001)

Sino-Dutch War 1661 (2001)

September 24th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

This historical epic revolves around the events of the collapse of the Ming Dynasty and in its final gasp of glory, the war between the Ming and Dutch forces that occupy Taiwan. The production values are good to great with access to dramatic settings and great care is taken with set design and costuming. Its swordplay elements are played down, as is frequently the case with this kind of period dramas made in the mainland. The story is the central focus beyond any action.

The star of the film is Zhao Wenzhou, who literally plays the last Ming General. He is better known for roles in Tsui Hark’s The Blade (1995) and some of the later Wong Fei Hung films from the mid to late 1990's. The films director Wu Ziniu had only a limited career, but is notible for directing Don't Cry, Nanking (1995), one of the better entries of a rash of Hong Kong films about Japanese actions during World War 2 made from the mid 1980's to 90's.

To understand much of the meaning of the film it is necessary to be familiar with some of the events taking place in China during the 16th and 17th Centuries. This is just a brief description of one set of interpretations of events, of which there is still much historical debate. The Ming Dynasty had ruled a largely prosperous China since the defeat of the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty. By the late 1500's a series of internal and external forces unbalanced the Chinese economy and governmental structure. These included the attempted Japanese invasion of Korea, which became a massive drain on the Chinese government after they came to Korea’s aid. There were also fluctuations in silver and a series of natural disasters including a earthquake that killed nearly a million. The government was further unbalanced by extreme corruption as well as some rebellion within the military and a increasingly paranoid central government best illustrated by the creation an internal intelligence gathering organization run by Eunuchs known as the Eastern Chamber.

Sensing this weakness, newly unified groups of formerly nomadic Manchurians came together under a central leader and attempted to make war on the Ming. The vastly superior Ming forces were involved in infighting relating to internal Ming politics and disputes with regard to Imperial succession. Some of the Ming forces joined the Manchurians, seeking to regain some kind of stable government. As the conflict waged on more and more Ming Troops and Officials joined the Manchu and their new Qing Dynasty. The Ming holdouts retreated to the South as a traditional defense against Northern Barbarians, as they viewed the Manchu. The new subjects of the Qing were required to adopt the Manchu hair style of a shaved front and long ponytail known as a Queue, the punishment for failing to comply was death. In the last years of the conflict the remaining Ming forces held out in the South and managed to retake Taiwan from the Dutch, which had been annexed decades before. The Qing would eventually win and engender many diverse views from the Chinese people of the era. During the early Qing, the standard of living for the average person was arguably the highest in the world. But at the same time they were viewed as foreigners by the majority ethnic Han Chinese and bitter memories of the war between the Ming and Manchu, which had killed around 25,000,000 people, that is more then died of combat during the first world war continued.

The film has a very overt political message, namely the promotion of Nationalistic feeling and the idea of reunifying the Chinese people under common purpose. This gives Sino-Dutch War 1661 an interesting position both as a historical epic and modern take on the reunification propaganda films of the past.
Mainland China, Director Ng Ji Ang, Cast Zhao Wenzhou, Shiu Ling, Yoko Shimada, Du Zhiu Guo and Xu Min, 98 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles.

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