Director: Jiang Wen (2000)
Jiang Wen's watershed 2000 release Devils on the Doorstep has indeed both perplexed and angered some viewers for its tackling of topics considered highly sensitive on the Chinese mainland. Yet at the same time, it remains so human and enlightening one simply cannot afford to skip it, demanding people's minds be open to accept a somewhat sarcastic look at the horrors of Japan's actions in China before and during WWII.
Initially a comically-portrayed tale of a Japanese soldier and a Chinese translator part captured part hosted by Northeastern villagers, the film centers on several key figures, namely Ma Dasan (played by Jiang Wen himself) and his lover Yu'er (Jiang Hongbo), as well as a host of others who together make up one of the most touching films you'll ever witness.
Additionally, we glimpse at a few Japanese military characters and their awkward relationships with the villagers. At least for its first half, Devils wishes to show them akin more to the Roman army from Asterix than to a formidable foe to be feared.
Shot in black and white, the film utilizes hilariously clever language that'll have you rolling on the floor from the off. Despite being set in a seemingly simple community, it depicts characters possessing savvy sophistication and immense emotional faculties from beginning to end. It's very difficult to simply point at a few highlights or single out several key attractions, as Devils presents a riddle worthy of repeat viewing on a large scale, and is so elaborately unique this review could go on forever.
Many have resented its treatment of the occupation's traumatic effects, yet through humor it also paints a most painfully tragic picture, hoping to educate audiences in a slightly alternative fashion; to wit, its ultimately shocking climax.
Chock full of superb acting, brilliant dialogue and steeped in unbeatable atmosphere, Devils on the Doorstep mustn't be missed.
(cityweekend.com.cn January 19, 2004)