Run Time: 142 Mins
What To Expect: One of the best Chinese movies ever
It’s kind of odd to see Hollywood-tier movies come out that aren’t from Hollywood, knowing that these new Chinese blockbusters are just the beginning of major competition. Operation Red Sea is a watershed moment in Chinese film making. It isn’t just highest grossing film of Spring Festival of all the time in China, and seventh overall worldwide this year, it’s a mature, earnest war actioner without some of the silliness often found in Asian action. And maybe most important of all, it’s a propaganda movie about the fledgling PLA Dragon… the message is; we’re coming, get the fuck out of our way.
The film sets the tone by opening with a PLA Marine raid on a tanker that has been taken over by violent Somali pirates. There are Chinese workers on board, so things are bedded in with the main team assaulting the ship with ruthless precision. This is the movie introducing its characters and setting the tone; well staged action with no shaking cameras, jarring violence, all business. From there the team are called to the fictional African country of Yewaire, where humanity’s favorite sons (jihadi beheaders) have taken more hostages. They’re also trying to build a dirty bomb, so it’s a straight forward angle here, the PLA team must pull double duty and save the day.
This is an interesting film, especially if you’re not comatose and know more about Marvel heroes than what’s going on in the real world. The Chinese are colonizing Africa, they’re building military bases in the strategically important horn and movies like this are part of the P.R. package. Watching this movie I was like, fuck, someone else is doing top-tier military propaganda, and it’s good, and it’s only the beginning. Only the beginning of China’s expansion (I’ll follow that with interest) but better for us, only the beginning of a new breed of war actioners.
The action in this film is very good. First, the basics are (mostly) nailed; we can see what is happening, very little camera shaking and bad editing. It’s also well filmed, good choreography with no shark jumping nonsense. And aside from that, maybe my favorite thing about the movie are the production values. Take the opening raid on the tanker… in a Hollywood film these days, the whole thing would probably look fake, with green screen skylines and CGI helicopters. Here, since (presumably) Uncle Jinping has lent a hand, no expense is spared. For a weapons man like me, this is some good shit. Real, modern Chinese weapons and hardware that you won’t find in other movies, and it even has rare, real, American tanks (a pair of M-60s equipped with ERA, where the hell did they get those??) used in non-CGI tank battles. What a treat.
There is actually only one problem with the film, although some may not even call it a problem. If I’m honest, this movie is just a daisy-chain of action set pieces. One after another for over two hours. They’re all well shot and executed, but man, especially in the last 45 minutes, there is no let up. By the end I was kind of exhausted; the best comparison I could give would be like playing an old Call of Duty single player campaign for too long in one sitting… it all looks like a million bucks and is fun, but fatigue will get you. A film like Die Hard doesn’t have this problem, with a masterful ebb and flow symbiotic with an interesting story. I might have rated the film higher if it was shorter.
Still though, you have to check this film out. I’ll be the first to admit I’m no connoisseur of Chinese action, but Dante Lam has a new fan in me.