One and Eight

dir. Zhang Junzhao

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Director Zhang Junzhao's superbly tense revisionist war film (featuring striking cinematography from future Fifth Generation standard bearer Zhang Yimou) is widely considered to be the first work of Mainland Fifth Generation cinema.


The filmmakers who became known as the Fifth Generation were the first students admitted to the Beijing Film Academy after the Cultural Revolution, and their work — marked by radical aesthetic experimentation, boldly emotive performances, and considerably more complex and critical thinking about the events leading up to and following 1949 — came to be represent a definitive break with the cinema that preceded them. Widely considered to be the first feature to emerge from this group, Zhang Junzhao's One and Eight set the tone for many of the films to follow while also functioning as a superbly tense war film. During the Sino-Japanese War, a political commissar serving with a Communist army unit in the vast landscapes of Northeastern China is suspected of treason by his superior, and thrown into prison with eight hardened criminals. When the unit comes under attack by the Japanese, the commissar demonstrates his loyalty by rallying his fellow prisoners to join the Communist troops in a last-ditch rearguard action. Featuring bleached, strikingly high-contrast cinematography by future Fifth Generation standard bearer Zhang Yimou and some remarkably stylized passages (particularly the tour-de-force, near-silent opening sequence), One and Eight both looks and feels like the start of a new cinematic revolution.