'The Eight Hundred' claims its glory after hardship

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, September 6, 2020
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A poster of "The Eight Hundred" [Photo courtesy of Huayi Brothers Media]

Guan Hu's "The Eight Hundred" has become a phenomenal war epic and the biggest film of the 2020 summer season, but it is a success that has been hard earned. 

By Saturday night, the film had grossed 2.32 billion yuan in the Chinese mainland, a remarkable triumph considering it was released amid the pandemic, and every cinema has only been able to have half of seats available under social distancing requirements. Even so, it is the highest grossing-film of the summer and so far for this year. 

However, for actress Liang Jing, who is also producer and wife of the film's director Guan Hu, the stunning box-office performance is "just a figure" as she witnessed every twist and turn along the way from preparation to debut and triumph. "For its creators, the important thing is that the film has finally come out to be seen by many people," she said.

Liang recalled Guan had an idea to make this film even before 2010, and the film's first script draft was written in 2011, and got approval for production in 2013; however, it only started shooting in 2017 - a film in the making for nearly a decade.

There were more setbacks, twists and turns than they imagined, such as how film set construction was suspended due to heavy rain, and how the film was delayed for release since last year, then encountered the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Even Huayi Brothers Media, the major investor and producer, was once hesitant about the project, as war genre films were considered unprofitable in China. But the company was attracted by the script's perspective and uniqueness, and the producers were persuaded by Guan Hu to come on board after becoming moved by his strong desire to present humanity and the national spirit behind conflict. 

A film still from "The Eight Hundred." Set during last phase of the Battle of Shanghai in 1937, the film recounts the story of the more than 400 Chinese soldiers defending the Sihang Warehouse against the invading Japanese army. [Photo courtesy of Huayi Brothers Media]

After receiving a copy of the script, another producer Cheng Wu, vice-president of Tencent Group and CEO of Tencent Pictures, was fascinated by the story. In his view, "The Eight Hundred" has reached new heights in terms of narrative and technology in addition to its expression of the national spirit.

At the peak, there were more than 1,500 people in the film's crew, and more than 5,000 extras were hired. In the large-scale scenes, they had to direct more than 1,000 people to act, which was very hard. With the high demands in regard to details, the budget quickly increased, and they even rented the advanced IMAX camera to shoot the film in its entirety. Liang tried to help Guan prevent it from spinning out of control.

At the height of the fight against the pandemic, when everyone was waiting for cinemas to reopen, Guan Hu wrote five other scripts at home and, edited details of "The Eight Hundred" time after time in the cutting room. Producers, distributors and promoters of the film were continuously preparing for the day when the film would see the light of day. 

Huayi Brothers was also in its own downward spiral into a dire situation. It lost 143 million yuan in the first quarter in 2020, according to its earnings report published in April. It had released no decent blockbusters for a whole year in 2019 and suffered a stunning loss of almost four billion yuan on the stock market. If this year turns out unprofitable, the company risks a delisting from the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. "The Eight Hundred" was obviously their last hope.

When the film finally reached the screens, everyone was deeply relieved and cried at the premiere, feeling it the "greatest honor" to have ever participated and involved in the project. The film debuted and immediately got full support from everyone in the Chinese film industry and the audience.

Cheng Wu was overwhelmed by the support. "Thank you to so many fellow industry partners and more than 40 million audiences for helping us complete this journey."

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