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Chinese audience applauds Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge

It is arguably the best time of the year for movie lovers in China, as lots of films made by world-renowned directors and actors are being screened across the country. But what can truly get the Chinese audience who nowadays still can download a film freely from the Internet pick the cash from their pockets to buy a movie ticket is probably a good story. Recently, it has been proved that what’s more important than a good story itself is how the story is told.

Chinese poster of Hacksaw Ridge Photo: Weibo

One of such films currently being widely talked about is Hacksaw Ridge by Mel Gibson who once amazed the Chinese audience by his Braveheart in 1995 and The Passion of the Christ in 2004.

While Chinese audiences were not quite familiar with the story of the American war hero Desmond Doss until they saw the movie, many were moved by the power of Desmond’s conviction during the war and were stunned by the cruel and lifelike war scene depicted in the movie.

Besides the fact-based story itself, many Chinese audiences attributed the success of the movie to how the story was told and the details that they believe form the soul of the movie.

Mel Gibson is well known in China for his expertise in religion, war and hero films, and many of his fans consider Hacksaw Ridge as his triumphant comeback show after a decade of “silence” in career.

“You have to admit that Mel Gibson is very unique in making heroic films. He knows how to handle it. … Taking a decade to grind a sword, he didn’t disappoint the audiences by his comeback show Hacksaw Ridge. I will definitely not miss it,” said one user on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging platform in China.

Opened on December 8 in China, the film quickly grossed more than 100 million yuan ($14.48 million) in its first weekend in the country. Although it's now in the third week since its premiere in China, and screen arrangements across the country have been replaced by other latest films such as The Great Wall, discussions about the film is still fermenting across the nation, and its mainland box office reached nearly 300 million yuan (about $43 million) as of Saturday, according to Ant Group.

Screenshot of Hacksaw Ridge’s page on Douban

On China’s public film-rating website Douban, it is rated 8.8 in a 10-point scoring system. And on Weibo, more than 410,000 users are discussing the film under hashtag “Hacksaw Ridge” created by Bliss Media, the Chinese distributor of the film. The hashtag page has been viewed for over 300 million times as of Thursday.

“This movie made me cry like a dog in the cinema. There are many things that can change a person, but there is always someone who will always defend his own belief. You have to see this film in the cinema,” said @小暈z, “It is more than a war film.”

“Hacksaw Ridge is probably the best religious movie that I have ever seen. I went to the cinema alone, sitting in the corner and almost crying from the beginning to the end,” a user named nash john commented on Zhihu, a Quora-like Chinese question-and-answer online platform.

“Based on my own movie-watching experience, I think a good war movie neither beautifies a war nor whitewashes death; neither dwarfs the enemies nor ignores common sense. Most importantly, it will never publicize a war. Hacksaw Ridge meets all of expectations,” said @咸菜帮老大 on Douban.

Some are touched by the details in the movie. “I was really impressed by the scene in which Doss tells one of his fellows in the battlefield that he doesn’t eat meat. What a respectful person he is, I think. It is true that his conviction cannot change the war, but the war cannot change his conviction either,” said @littledepp.

In addition, set against the backdrop of the Battle of Okinawa, the film tells the story of a period that Chinese audiences are very familiar with, and it arouses their memory of the eight-year battle between Chinese military and Japanese invaders during 1937 and 1945. But instead of talking about the grieving history, many on the Internet are discussing more about how the film displays the war scene, comparing it with the mainland war dramas which usually fail to depict especially the intelligence and spirit of the Japanese invaders during the war.

On Thursday, @共青团中央, the official Weibo account of the Central Committee of the Communist Young League, posted a review on Weibo about the film, which was followed by many users quickly and has been read for over 620,000 times as of Saturday.

“To be honest, Hacksaw Ridge shows what the Japanese invaders truly looked like during WWII - stubborn, cruel, crazy and sly. This is the enemy that we were facing during the eight-year war. However, in some of our anti-Japanese war films, even an elite Japanese troop is usually depicted as a weak one, and it is irresponsible to both history and our martyrs,” it said.

As another war movie, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk directed by Ang Lee was also screened in China last month, some compared the two movies with some viewers quipping why Ang Lee didn’t make a film like Hacksaw Ridge. However, some also think that Ang Lee and Mel Gibson are two directors with totally different style, which is why the two directors can never make two films in the same style.

“Billy Lynn is a typical Ang Lee character. Although he is brave, he has no big difference with his fellows and became a soldier without too much deep thought…. In fact, all the other soldiers in Hacksaw Ridge are like those in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. … Ang Lee’s films are filled with people who are usually confused with sense and sensibility …, while Mel Gibson does not care about ordinary people. In his world, light and dark, freedom and slavery, justice and sin are clearly separated,” Xu Yuan, a columnist, said in his review, “Therefore, a war film which features an ordinary person (Billy Lynn) and the one which tells the story of a hero (Desmond Doss) will never be the same.”

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