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A hard-boiled woman working in the Communist underground leads a desperate prison break attempt, in this taut wartime thriller.
A taut wartime thriller, Red Crag: Life in Eternal Flame anticipates the paranoia and violence of the imminent Cultural Revolution while harking back to the aesthetic splendour of the Golden Age Shanghai cinema of the late 1940s. (This opulence is largely due to the work of cinematographer Zhu Jinming, the master visual stylist of Shangrao Concentration Camp and other key "Seventeen Years" films.) The film concerns a hard-boiled woman working in the Chongqing Communist underground during World War II, whose commitment to the guerrilla cause is only intensified after she witnesses her husband's head mounted on the city walls by the Nationalist forces. Arrested while escorting a weapons shipment to her comrades, she resists Guomindang torture and becomes a leader in the rough-and-tumble prison. As the Communist army approaches and the prisoners are threatened with execution, a desperate escape is planned. As directed by Shui Hua, one of the more reliably orthodox directors with talent during this period, Red Crag features much chest-beating and many Mao-inspired smiles as it revels in the glories of martyrdom, but it also has a swagger and bravado that is rarely seen in Chinese films of the period.