Chinese director Feng Xiaogang delivers an impressive anti-war epic based on a true story from the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950). The story begins in the winter of 1948 in northeastern China, where Captain Gu Zidi (Zhang Hanyu) leads a company in the communist PLA army in their fierce fighting against the nationalist KMT forces. The veteran officer from a peasant background is asked by his superiors to defend a strategic position overlooking the Wen River, but is only given 46 men for the task.
The savage battle sequences of the film’s first half call to mind those of Saving Private Ryan, with their handheld camerawork, de-saturated colours and gruesome fatalities, and Xiaogang has spoken in interviews of his desire to ‘remind people of the horrors of being a regular soldier.’ The second half of Assembly, however, unfolds in peacetime, where Gu Zidi, guilt-ridden, deaf and half-blinded from his military service, has begun another campaign – this time to find the bodies of his fallen comrades (who have been labelled MIAs or deserters) and to ensure their sacrifices are properly recognised by the authorities. Anchored by Hanyu’s powerful performance, Assembly becomes a moving portrait of masculine obsession, which merits its redemptive conclusion.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 11 Apr.