(director/writer:Yimou Zhang; screenwriter: Quan Yongxian/based on Quan’s story; cinematographer: Zhao Xiaoding; editor: Li Yongyi; music: Cho Young Wuk; cast: Yawen Zhu (Chuliang), Haocun Liu (Lan), Yi Zhang (Xianchen), Hailu Qin (Yu), Ni Dahong (Gao), Yu Hewei (Secret Agent, Zhou); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Pang Liwei, Luca Liang; China Film Co.; 2021-China-in Mandarin, with English subtitles)

“It impresses as a handsomely made stylish action film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The noted Chinese director Yimou Zhang (“Curse of the Golden Flower”/”Shadow”) films this blockbuster spy pic Hollywood style, with plenty of action and expensive period sets of the re-created period houses and streets. It looks great and captures the  authentic look of the 1930’s period. Zhang co-writes it with Quan Yongxian, who wrote the story.

In 1931, four communist party special agents, the married couple, Xianchen (Yi Zhang) and Yu (Hailu Qin), and the unmarried couple Lan (Haocun Liu) and Chiuliang (Yawen Zhu), arrive in Manchukuo (a part of Manchuria occupied now by the Japanese but occupied before by the Chinese) via parachute in the snowy forest fields, after training together in Russia. Their mission is set for Harbin, where they will free a Chinese informer who escaped from a Japanese death camp and is hiding in the woods after reporting a massacre. The idea being if rescued he will reveal  the truth about the Japanese terror against humanity to the world.

Riding unrecognized on the train to Harbin, both the older married couple and the unmarried couple separate and each goes on alone to find their witness, following the orders of team leader Xianchen.

The narrative gives way to a lot of freezing scenes in the snow, double-crosses, betrayals, of being sold out by a traitor, a series of action sequences and a comical car chase scene. It brings on chills when an embedded secret agent Zhou (Yu Hewei) pops up, as he eludes the head Japanese torturer Gao (Ni Dahong).

It impresses as a handsomely made stylish action film, whose artistry goes into its gorgeous visuals, fancy costumes and robust action sequences. The spy narrative takes a back seat to everything else, and suffers the most neglect. It’s meant to please the viewer as a lightweight spy film, even as it deals with such a traumatic subject to the Chinese as their historic suffering from ‘war crimes’ at the hands of the Japanese. If you wish to see a flawed but beautifully filmed spy film, this one is such a watch.