Back to 1942 Blu-ray Review
During the winter of 1942 a terrible drought came over the Henan province in China. The drought took its toll, especially when combined with a locust invasion and the continued war with Japan. When the dust settled, no less than 3 million people were dead.
Based on the novel “Remembering 1942” by Zhenyun Liu (who also did the screenplay), BACK TO 1942 is an epic telling of a story few people know. The story takes place in a local village, run by the wealthy Mr. Fan (Guoli). As is an often occurrence the village is visited by a band of wandering “bandits.” But they’re not there to steal. They’re only looking for a meal. To keep things peaceful they are allowed inside the village while Fan dispatches a messenger to bring back soldiers to arrest them. However his plan is discovered and a riot breaks out which transforms the village into a smoldering pile of rubble. The few villagers not killed pack up their belongings and begin a trek to what they hope is salvation. But along the way their will is challenged over and over again as they are slapped down repeatedly by everything from the weather to the Japanese Air Force.
Skillfully directed by Feng Xiaogang (AFTERSHOCK, IF YOU ARE THE ONE and its sequel), BACK TO 1942 is an unfiltered – and unflinching- look at the true perils of war. What’s astonishing to me is that, in the more than two hour running time, there isn’t one moment of lightness. No sudden comic moment to help ease the story along. No romantic back story. It’s often said that war is hell and this film drives that message home. As the nomadic survivors continue on their journey we are reminded via titles (“31 days, 76 miles”) how far they have traveled. By the end of the film you’re so emotionally drained that you feel as if you’ve walked every step as well.
The performances are strong all around, including those turned in by a couple of Oscar winners. Brody plays “Time” magazine writer Theodore White, who covered China for many years and went on to write several “Making of the President” books. White, who was a college classmate of Joe Kennedy, Jr. would also later write an essay for “Life” magazine in which John F. Kennedy would forever be linked to Camelot. Robins has a smaller but just as important role as Father Thomas Megan, the first Divine Word Prefect in China. Production values are strong with special mention going to the bleak yet sharp photography courtesy of cinematographer Yue Lu and the period look of the various costumes designed by Timmy Yip. BACK TO 1942 is a compelling film and one that would make for half of a great double feature with the Oscar winning 1937 film THE GOOD EARTH. Though the time period covered is different the story is just as resonate with the viewer.
Video: Presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The picture is sharp though because of the bleakness of the period some of the scenes almost have a sepia tone.
Audio: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the soundtrack is finely mixed. Be it a major battle scene or the quiet whisperings while on the road, every sound is sharp and clear. BACK TO 1942 is presented in Mandarin with English subtitles, though the scenes that include Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins are in English.