What a cruel and selfish thing is war.

battle of changsha wallace huo kong sheng

We shall not lightly talk about sacrifice until we are driven to the last extreme which makes sacrifice inevitable.

Chiang Kai-Shek, 1939


Battle of Changsha  (2015)
Also known as
 Zhan Changsha
 Family,   Historical,   Melodrama,  Romance,   Tragedy,   War
Written by
Que Que
Directed by
Kong Sheng & Zhang Kaizhou
Wallace Huo,   Ren Chenwei, Yang Zi
Country of Origin

oh! … flashback

In 1944, nearing the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Japanese troops invaded the Chinese province of Hunan. Their plan was to establish land and rail corridors for Japanese occupied territories of Manchuria, Northern and Central China, Korea and South East Asia. As part of Tairiku Datsu Sakusen, (loosely translated as Operation to Break through the Continent), better known as Operation “Ichi-Go, involved three separate conflicts:

Roughly 360,000 Japanese troops were deployed to attack Changsha – the fourth attempt to take Changsha occurring in 1944, the first attack occurred in 1939.

oh! … brief

The cdrama centres on the lives of twins, their immediate and extended family members (the Hu family), and friends caught in the conflict during the ongoing battle at the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War between 1939 and 1945. The drama follows their struggles to survive with the ongoing conflict.

oh! … talks drama

This cdrama was unique in that it details some of the prevalent and ghastly events of Battle for Changsha and was a highly emotional story. The actual battle was the backdrop to the real story which focused on the survival of the twins and their families. The drama was not as focused on the intense historical period as I would have liked it to be, but it was a tragic story with a bittersweet ending.

My review will be understated, I just can’t give away spoilers for this drama, but no matter how low-key my review comes off as, this is an exceptionally good drama and well worth the watch.

Writer Que Que mixed a lighter side to the Hu family life at the start of the drama with the harsher reality of living in war as the story developed. Like a storm brewing, once the characters are developed and you have an understanding, the writing sweeps away the carpet from beneath your feet and you are caught in the eye of a storm. The drama really moves quickly through tragedy-after-tragedy to the end.

I found the depictions of survival that the ordinary citizens (Hu family included) well narrated, but not as shocking as what other documentaries have alluded, especially the inhumane way the Japanese treated the Chinese (raping and pillaging as they progressed through the country. This is tame in comparison to some I have seen.

Que Que did a fine job with the writing of the narration, and though at times the translation wasn’t good, the audience could always get the gist of what was being said. That’s on the team who translated the drama and not the writer. He spent a lot of time developing conversations and characters, and they were so well portrayed with their interactions, especially the sibling bonding.

Based on a novel, Que Que made significant changes for this television drama, but, from what I have heard the drama is better than the novel. Not having read a copy myself, I can’t guarantee this statement, but my understanding is that in addition to other things changes, Que Que expanded the role of Gu Qingming and added in more action.

The cinematography under the watchful eye of director Kong Sheng was exceptionally realistic for a television drama and on par with some of the film coming out of China. Shot internally and outdoors, camera techniques were used to capture broad sweeping scenes and intimate moments. I enjoyed the beauty captured when the camera focused in on rain dripping off slated roofs and the garden of the main house. All the minor details were captured perfectly.

I appreciated that this period piece didn’t go the route of garish costumes like some Chinese productions tend to. They stuck with authentic dull and plain clothing that complimented the ordinary lives of the family. It was nicely done. I did find some of the special effects for some of ‘battle’ scenes were exaggerated, but it wasn’t distracting. Watching some episodes for the second time you will see repeated scenes filmed for one battle scene repeated in other battles. I understand this was done to save money and time given that this was for television and not film. It is an oversight, but not too glaring.

I really enjoyed the musical score that accompanied this drama. I’m sad that I couldn’t find a complete score online, just a few pieces. Please pay particular attention if you find it, to the theme song, sung by Wallace Huo and Yang Zi, I Will Remember You/Wo Wei Ji De Ni.

The cast was chosen well for the characters they would play.

The main characters, the twins, Hu Xiangxiang (played by Yang Zi and Hu Xiangiun (played by Zuo Xiaoqing) shared remarkable sibling rivalry throughout and had a chemistry that was only rivalled by the chemistry and romance shared between Xiangxiang and Gu Qingming (played by Wallace Huo). The story has a romantic sub-plot. Given the age difference between Yang Zi and Wallace Huo, I was sceptical they would pull it off, but they did a genuine job of developing their love over time.

The twins grow from petulant and spoilt children into mature adults. Both Yang Zi and Zuo Xiaoqing were skilled at delivering their characters. I must admit I found their antics annoying nearly all the time, but I understood it was essential to show their maturity later in the drama. Both characters went through a transformation. Xiangxiang starts out as brash and opinionated but mellows with maturity. Her insanely immature brother matures somewhat but never meets the level of maturity I expected. They were good.

Wallace Huo excelled (as usual) in his role as Gu Qingming, a cold, serious soldier who desperately wants to get to the frontlines. Wallace Huo portrayed this man and his frustrations with incredible body language and multiple facial expressions. The strong silent type of character really suits him. With every nuanced body movement, he drew the audience in and you cannot help but be mesmerised. His acting was consistent throughout the drama and skilled.

For me, Ren Cheng who played Xue Junshan was the best actor in this production and that says a lot because I am a big fan of Wallace Huo. As the older tyrannical brother-in-law with dubious dabbling in criminal activities, he is underappreciated but his presence is missed when he is sent off to the frontlines. Ren Cheng was brilliant at painting the picture of a serious head of the family who is plotting out every step of every member, eager to secure the best future. Xue Junshan’s dialogue was tinged with humour and he played the funny guy shrewdly. Without gushing, he handled his character’s depth and never lost the strength and command he had in the production. It was exceptional.

The bromance between Xue Junshan and Gu Qingming was noteworthy. Coming from two different upbringings, they each held respect for the other. Wallace and Huo and Ren Cheng brought their characters together so well.

I think I personally and emotionally connected best with Hu Xiangjun, the elder sister to the twins. Zuo Xiaoqing was outstanding! This role wasn’t a huge one but was essential. Zuo Xiaoqing’s interpretation for Xiangjun’s quiet and gentle demeanour complemented her husband Xue Junshan, who was loud and obnoxious. Xue Junshan was not her first love but she devoted to him. Zuo Xiaoqing’s facial expressions and body language were understated but even more authentic because of it. I loved her!

Grandma Hu, the backbone for the family was played by Wang Caiping and she was noteworthy. To be honest, I didn’t connect with her initially, her character’s personality was a turn-off for me. I really don’t like domineering mature females ruling the roost. I’m a rebel at heart and I find the character overbearing and exhausting. But Wang Caping’s acting was so keen she eventually won me over.

There were many amazing cast members that supported their leads. But, I have to say I was no fan of the character Hu Xiangning. The man just irritated me and so I was not particularly taken with Yang Xinming, although he did the best he could with what he was given. I think for me, it’s more the fact that ‘intellectuals’ are often portrayed as weak and of all the intellectuals I have known, I have never found one to be weak, either physically or mentally.

oh! … sidekicks

Liu Minghan, the cousin to the twins who is a doctor. The role was mellow except for adding sparks to the relationship between Hu Xiangjun and Xue Junshan. Gao Xin was the bringer of peace in this production and he was skilled at downplaying his acting. It was a pity that he was in this role, he’d have played a much better intellectual, in my opinion, the age factor was a set-back I’m guessing. He did an awesome job.

Liu Xiu Xiu, a young man who Xue Junshan takes under his wing and calls him Xiao Di (little brother). He was played by Liu Zhen and he was exceptional in his minor role. I was very impressed.

oh! … that’s a wrap

Every now and then, you’ll come across a cdrama deserving of praise, this is one of those times. Battle of Changsha is a prized and unique film that will take the audience on a poignant journey that is simultaneously heart-warmingly sweet and tragic.

I cringed, laughed, cried and pitied the Hu family and by extension had a lot of empathy for the poor Chinese people and their families who suffered horribly under the Japanese troops.

While this drama romanticised a relationship blossoming during a horrendous period in history, if you’re anything like me, that will just encourage you to go and learn more or watch some of the documentaries. I was fortunate to have watched two documentaries before I saw this. I think I appreciated the production more because of it.

I recommend this cdrama which could have easily been produced as a film and would not have lost the quality cinematography, musical score, costumes and cast. It was a very stirring production.

oh! … tidbits

2-star General, Zhang De-neng of the National Revolutionary Army‘s (NRA) 4th Corps in charge of defending Changsha, ordered a retreat in contravention of a direct order from his immediate superior, Xue Yue, the Commander of the 9th Military Front. Zhang had no feasible plan and so he deserted his troops. In the confusion, many of the forces under his command were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Zhang was eventually arrested by Xue Yue, stood trial and was sentenced to a five-year prison sentence by court-martial. He was later executed by Chiang Kai-shek on the charge of “incompetence of command and desertion.

In the original novel, Gu Qingming never officially proposes to Xiangxiang, they married in haste with no formal wedding ceremony.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

This gallery is comprised of official photos mostly, taken from the official Weibo site.

oh! … trailer

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