The producers of an upcoming movie about China’s role in the Korean War have been sent ducking for cover after a promotional video for the film was condemned for its tastelessly nationalistic themes.
“My War,” scheduled to hit screens on Thursday, tells the story of a group of Chinese soldiers fighting in the Korean War of 1950-1953 — also known in Chinese as the “Resist-America-Defend-North Korea War.” Along with the usual fare of blood-pumping, gun-firing action trailers, China Film Group Corporation, which produced the film, decided to release an additional promotional video that tapped more explicitly into the nationalism and nostalgia that surrounds China’s role in the conflict.
In the two-minute clip, published on various video platforms Sept. 7, a horde of smiley, chatty elderly Chinese folk board a bus in South Korea’s capital, as the playful chords of a plodding accordion play on in the background. The joviality comes to an end when the group’s Chinese-speaking South Korean tour guide begins to introduce Seoul as if it were the pensioners’ first time to the city. “Tour guide, young lady,” a smiling woman interrupts, “we’ve all been here before.”
Other members of the group proceed to explain that they first visited Seoul over 60 years ago as performers for the Chinese troops stationed in Korea. When the perplexed tour guide says she found no record of their previous excursion in their passports, another woman exclaims: “We didn’t need passports!” “Back then,” a fist-shaking member of the group explains, “we entered [the country] waving the red flag.” The passengers then suggest that the tour guide watch the upcoming film “My War” to better educate herself regarding the conflict.
What seems to have been intended as a playful, lighthearted scene has been met with a stream of criticism online from cultural commentators and normal net users alike, with descriptions of the clip’s patronizing, blatant nationalism varying from “awkward” and “embarrassing” all the way to “revolting.”
While acknowledging the clip was scripted, screenwriter and producer Shi Hang wrote on his Weibo: “I don’t have many South Korean friends but I think talking that way to a Korean woman with good intentions who you don't know is disgraceful.” On Saturday, Feiteng, the public account on messaging app WeChat where The Beijing News publishes commentaries, published a piece that argued, “Anyone with a normal understanding of history, war, international relations, and humanity would have a physical reaction to the values that this promotional video propagates.”
Criticism from net users has been less restrained. “It’s vicious and provocative,” wrote one Weibo user. “Just imagine if this were a coachload of Japanese people and a Chinese tour guide. The tour guide would kill those bitches.”
After the impassioned blowback, the film’s director, Oxide Pang Chun, has attempted to distance himself from the promotional clip. Along with a screenshot showing a message sent to him that read “Trash director, may your entire family be run over and killed by a car,” the director, who is from Hong Kong, posted a statement to his microblog Weibo Monday that said he had had nothing to do with the production of the promotional video. “Everyone is welcome to say my film is awful,” the statement continued, “but please save it for when you have seen the movie, so that your criticism may be on point.”
The use of nationalist themes to stir up interest in films is nothing new, film producer and movie industry blogger Xie Xiaohu told Sixth Tone. “Nationalist themes can drum up ethnic pride and cohesion, but when it goes too far it just becomes extremism,” he said. Xie equates the promotional video’s treatment of a conflict that concluded over 60 years ago to “rubbing salt into people’s wounds.”
China Film Group Corporation did not respond immediately to Sixth Tone’s requests for comment.
Additional reporting by Li You.
(Header image: A screenshot from the promotional video for ‘My War’ shows a group of elderly Chinese tourists aboard a coach in South Korea.)