Devils on the Doorstep

DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP
(GUIZI LAI LE) 2000

Director: Wen Jiang

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



Devils on the Doorstep is an antiwar film of depth & beauty, set in a small Chinese village in 1944, near the end of the war with Japan. A mysterious Chinese soldier arrives in the middle of the night & entrusts to the peasant Ma Dasan (played by director Wen Jiang) a young Japanese soldier & a translator, promising to return for these prisoners at on New Years, & threatening death to the whole village if Ma Dasan fails his comission.

But no one ever returns for the prisoners. Japanese soldiers are encamped nearby, so that the peasants live in terror that they will be discovered keeping prisoners.

As time passes, the rural village finds that it is stuck with the two men at increasing peril to themselves. The relationship between the prisoners, Ma Dasan, & the rest of the village grows & transmutes through disdain for an enemy, to fear of reprisals either from their own or the Japanese armies, to grudging fondness for their frightened captive wards.

One by one all their options -- to kill the prisoners, to set them free, or keep them interminably -- all become impossible. They concoct various plans to escape their dilemma, from hiring an elderly swordsman to execute the soldiers (a wonderful episode of startling humor), to inventing a story of having found & nursed their wards back to health in order to return them to the Japanese army for a reward. An absolutely perfect plan bound to end well for everyone proves to be awfully illusive.

A recpient of the Grand Prix at Cannes, it's hard to imagine a more deserving & visually stunning film, elegantly shot in black & white. The film's humanity, its laugh-out-loud humor & its horrific tragedy, the explosive climax & its paeon for compassion & forgiveness, adds up to a classic mode of storytelling such as deserves praise & appreciation from all lovers of great cinema.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl


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