Railway Heroes is unabashed anti-Japanese propaganda

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Zhang Hanyu (middle) as Lao Hong, who leads the railway soldiers in Railway Heroes. (Photo: Shaw Organisation)
Zhang Hanyu (middle) as Lao Hong, who leads the railway soldiers in Railway Heroes. (Photo: Shaw Organisation)

Length: 124 minutes
Director: Yang Feng
Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Fan Wei, Vision Wei, Zhou Ye, Yu Haoming
Language: Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles

In theatres from 2 December (Singapore)

1 out of 5 stars

The latter half of this year saw several Chinese nationalist films, including The Battle At Lake Changjin, My Country, My Parents, and 1921. This was mainly due to the celebrations for the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th anniversary, and China’s National Day.

Railway Heroes, the latest film in this lineup, is set during the Second Sino-Japanese war in a railway station. Based on the accounts of descendants of the soldiers of the Lunan Railway Guerrilla, Railway Heroes is “dedicated to the heroes of the Shandong Rail Corps, 115th Battalion of the 8th Route Army.”

As its title suggests, the film hails the Chinese who fought against the Japanese at the railway as heroes. Often, films like this tend to remind the Chinese that the peace they have now is a result of the sacrifices of these heroes — their ancestors. It's like a subtle threat or warning that you should not forget history.

Taking the role of the antagonist is Hiroyuki Mori, who plays senior Japanese agent Fujiwara. The character design alone is enough to convey the idea that Fujiwara is the devil in the story. With cold, sharp eyes, a goatee, and a wicked grin, Fujiwara is the iconic villain.

Railway Heroes further demonised the Japanese with sadistic torture scenes, which will definitely stir up feelings of hatred between both countries. The script is also not forgiving, using derogatory names to refer to the Japanese. There is also a despising attitude in the conversations between the Chinese and Japanese.

While other Chinese propaganda films go a step further with more factual historical recounts, heart-wrenching scenes, comedic elements or thrilling suspense, Railway Heroes seems to be more superficial. One cringeworthy scene even features soldiers drawing the emblem of the CCP, and pledging their loyalty.

Most of the film involves stealth, undercover operations, and gunfire, but the action scenes are not impressive. The only interesting thing about Railway Heroes is probably the fact that the theme song is sung by Andy Lau. It was a pleasant surprise to hear his voice as the credits rolled.

However, the song, which was originally a song for Railway Guerrilla (1956), is propaganda as well. Part of the lyrics read, “The end of the devil is coming.” Although there is no specific reference to the Japanese, the Chinese often referred to the Japanese as devils.

Railway Heroes is, by far, the most disappointing and cringeworthy among the Chinese propaganda films that we have seen this year. It could have been better if it focuses on the suspense and thrill of the undercover operations, instead of emphasising how evil the Japanese are, in contrast to how heroic the Chinese are.

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