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A young peasant girl is trained to become a vicious, pro-socialist fighting machine, in this highly influential mixture of war film, spy thriller and proto-Pop Art stylization.
"The films I directed before the Cultural Revolution are mostly about the contrast between the old society and the new society," said Xie Jin, whose distinguished career extended from the pre- to post-Cultural Revolution periods. "What was the past like? What happened after the founding of New China?" The director boldly answered those questions in this tale of a violated peasant girl turned vicious fighting machine. The film's first half, situated on the sweltering island of Hainan, has the feel of a "James Bond of the East," as a dashing spy recruits our heroine to the Communist cause; the second half, featuring her army training and fearsome all-female combat scenes, crosses the eye-popping style of Communist propaganda posters with the gritty realism of Soviet war films, creating an unclassifiable, proto-pop art socialist cinematography. While Red Detachment is certainly brimming with cadre spirit — it became one of the Mainland's most important films up to the fall of the Gang of Four, remade successively in literary, theatre, model opera and new film versions — Xie Jin never lets the proceedings sink into sloganeering; he later claimed that he kept such classic (and decidedly un-revolutionary) Chinese novels as Romance of Book and Sword in mind while making the film.