This story combines two of my favorite subjects: free speech and military history. Unfortunately, neither survives unscathed.
The film has been criticized as a propaganda film with the United States as the villains as thousands of “volunteer” Chinese soldiers confront and defeat the world’s largest superpower. In fairness, the United States produced its own one-sided films during the war that often portrayed Chinese soldiers as blood-thirsty inhuman fanatics. However, we did not arrest those who criticized the films.
The Chinese call the operation “The Battle at Lake Changjin.” In truth it was a Chinese victory in forcing the United States out of Northern Korea. The Chinese succeeded in quietly inserting its 9th Army into the area and then hitting the X Corps under Major General Edward Almond in the Chosin Reservoir. That led to one of the most brutal battles that the United States ever fought, including pitched battles against overwhelming numbers of Chinese in freezing conditions for 17 days.
The battle occurred in late November 1950, when the United Nations forces were moving to wipe out the last remnants of the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) units. The final victory appeared at hand as some U.S. units actually reached the Yalu River, separating Korea from China. That is when hundreds of thousands of Communist Chinese soldiers suddenly poured into Korea. One unit in the 7th Infantry Division, the 31st Regimental Combat Team (known as Task Force MacLean) was virtually wiped out. In reality, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir was not such a clear victory. The Chinese did succeed strategically in forcing U.N. troops out of Northern Korea and creating the current division of the Korean Peninsula. However, they did not (as intended) overrun and destroy the U.N. forces. While caught unprepared for the Chinese attack, the United Nations, and specifically the Eighth Army, fought a well-organized retreat that preserved its force and maximized losses for the Chinese.
In the end, the losses for the Chinese were staggering. Chinese casualties were estimated as between 50,000 and 60,000. The U.N. suffered about 17,000 casualties. The battle is often cited as an example of the use of human wave tactics — an approach that invites a virtual massacre of your own forces while seeking to overwhelm or exhaust a line of defense.The movie is dramatically shot and (as shown below) has some incredible scenes. However, the test of any movie is its ability to withstand its critics from both cinematic and historical perspectives. It is bizarre to think of Luo Changping sitting in a barren cell when another prisoner asks “what are you in for?” The response “I didn’t like a film” may come as a surprise even in China but it might be best not to ask him for his specific review.