Boxer Rebellion

Boxer Rebellion ★★★★

A Chang Cheh variation on the historical epic, with his band of blood brothers (Alexander Fu Sheng, Leung Ka-yan and Chi Kuan-chun) caught up in the eponymous revolution. Chang's portrait of the Boxers is nuanced, a mob of thugs deluded by poverty, oppression and rulers either in it for self-aggrandizement (the leaders of the movement) or completely oblivious to reality (the Empress Dowager and the rest of the Qing government, hopelessly lost in ornament and ritual within the Forbidden City). But within this mob are heroic figures, men hoping to stand up and fight for justice against the foreigners exploiting the nation and murdering Chinese just as wantonly as the mob does. It's a Chang Cheh world: everyone in it for themselves, human life is cheap, but there remain a few heroes willing to do what's right, and they mostly end up dead.

We see the events through the three "brothers," martial arts masters who are intrigued by and join the Boxer movement, only to discover it's a scam. But they keep on, believing the trickery (convincing people, even the Empress, that their magical spells can make the Boxers impervious to weapons, even foreign guns) can help motivate the masses to stand up to the occupation. But they become increasingly disillusioned by the Rebellion's leadership and eventually go their own way. In the aftermath of the revolution (crushed by the united forces of eight nations (Japan, the US, Russia, Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Germany, as seen form the other side in Nicholas Ray's 55 Days at Peking), as foreign troops take bloody reprisals against any Chinese they can find (the German commander calls it "Operation Punishment"), the three find themselves trapped in the city and having to fight their way out. Heroic deaths ensue, as does a hope for the future, as one man walks out of the city and into the sunset, in search of Sun Yat-sen and his Revive China Society.

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