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Assembly Review

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A soldier fights to gain recognition for the comrades who died during the Chinese Civil War.

★★★★★

With a bold opening salvo, Chinese director Feng Xiaogang hurls us straight into the gritty midst of a chaotic urban battle in the winter of 1948, during the civil war in China between the Nationalists and Communists. Shot in jerky, desaturated Private Ryan-style and brazenly plunging us in before we even know who we're supposed to be rooting for, it's arresting stuff.

It's a shame, then, that Xiaogang's big-budget war pic so quickly loses its impetus as it ultimately follows Gu Zidi (Zhang Hanyu), captain of the Communist PLA's 9th company in his quest to correctly honour the 47 men who valiantly perish under his command during the second, and last, big battle scene at the film's midpoint.

What starts as a thrilling sprint gradually decelerates to a tedious trudge during the second half as we suffer scene after scene of the bitter, semi-blinded Gu raging for justice. And given that this was a movie made with the Chinese regime's full approval, the outcome is hardly a surprise.

A strong start is squandered as the film slows down when it should be building to a climax.

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