Cold Steel – A Sniper’s War

Cold Steel – A Sniper’s War

If in the West war films are a genre in their own right, in China they are an even more important genre, and that is because there is always an interest on the part of the official media to remember the two great war events that gave rise to the present regime: the War of Resistance against the Japanese and the Civil War that ended up giving victory to the Communist Party and resulted in the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

 Therefore, war films in China, unlike in the West, where new social movements can encourage a revision or rethinking of aspects of war adventures, as happened in the United States during the years following the end of the Vietnam War, are usually promoted by political interests, since there is always a political interest in reviving the main heroic actions of these two wars, whether they are real or invented. And to tell the truth, both conflicts were so extensive, so long-lasting and so bloody that there are so many episodes that can be dramatized to make a good movie about them. However, for the viewers it can be a really tiring subject, because in the end, war movies by definition follow a uniform theme: one kills the other, and the other is killed by the one.

However, this film has two special features, or rather we could say three. One is that it has not been directed by a director from mainland China but by one from Hong Kong, another is that the protagonist is not the Red Army but the National Army and the third is that it is a film that we could call half war and half romantic, which is also a resource often used to give a human dimension to films that are already monotonous. Although romantic aspects, let’s not fool ourselves, are also repeated following the classic scheme of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, and all this is already more or less invented.

In this film in particular we find that the protagonist is a hunter who for a number of reasons is forced to show before some military commanders his good marksmanship. It is for this reason that he is soon enlisted, to his regret, in a sniper unit, whose mission is to assassinate some of the Japanese commanders. The hunter shows himself to be a soldier in spite of himself. He neither wants to be a soldier, nor to kill the Chinese who collaborate with the Japanese, nor to cross some other of the red lines that separate the reason of peace from the barbarism of war, but his doubts do not go beyond mere rhetoric, a resistance that only waits for one more reason to be convinced. He then acts as just another soldier and becomes a folk hero. The play actually focuses on two war actions in which the squadron in which the hunter is enlisted attacks the Japanese, as well as a major action in which the Japanese respond not only to their attacks but more generally as a part of their advance into China.

The film builds some functional symmetries, one between  the hunter and the cruelest of the Japanese snipers, both men love stories run in parallel along the film. The development of the failed love between the Japanese commander and his girlfriend, a Japanese nurse who rejects him because, as she says, she is in the business of saving lives and not to killing them, and the successful one between the hunter and his girlfriend, Mrs. Tang, a military widow, who runs a teahouse. Mrs. Tang can also be compared to the nurse, as her teahouse has become a makeshift hospital and field shelter, where the wounded from the latest battles rest.

The film runs with a certain ease but in no way can it be said that it does not end up infected by the monotony of war movies and at the same time by the monotony of love movies. It has brilliant scenes, especially those culminating in war actions, as well as a confrontation (first veiled) between the characters representing the two sides. The timing of the final scenes is well built to provide the viewer a needed dosage of emotion. In definitive, a film that can be seen and enjoyed without problems but in which nobody can try to find a deeper analysis of the miseries of war.

Even without impressing us too much, the film aroused the enthusiasm of our colleagues at Asianfilmstrike, who mention:

«As an editor, David Wu has had an illustrious career, cutting together the films of John Woo, Tsui Hark, Johnnie To, Ann Hui and many others… And his pacing is immaculate : each character is introduced with skillful efficiency and the stakes escalate quickly, setting up a series of excellent action scenes that display Wu’s virtuosity in editing, and a sense of staging that he may have inherited from his frequent collaborator John Woo.»

 For them, «A brisk and heartfelt – if fairly unsubtle – wartime action melodrama supported by a massively charismatic turn from Tony Leung Ka Fai, Cold Steel is a joy to watch.»

For the reviewers at Entertainement Heaven, Peter Ho’s performance is among the highlights: » Ho’s performance as Lianfeng is one of the most charismatic in years, it’s impossible not to feel for him as he discovers just how cruel and final life-choices can be.»

Technical Details:

Title: Cold Steel

Original Title: 遍地狼烟, which curiously refers to the smoke烟, which was produced on the Great Wall by burning wolf feces 狼 to warn of an attack. Or so it could be translated as «The war spreads».

Running time: 101 min.

Year 2011.

Directed by: David Wu

Main actors: Peter Ho, Song Jia, Tony Leung Ka Fai.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "Cold Steel – A Sniper’s War," in Ethnic China, 19 abril 2021,

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