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It is said to be the Chinese version of Titanic. Well, grossly overstated. Even though I have only watched the first part of this saga and the characters have yet boarded the fatal vessel Tai Ping, I do not think I would miss much not seeing the second part.
The crossing is quite disappointing from inside out on all aspects. The historic background is forever fascinating: at the end of the Sino-Japan War in the early 1940s, the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang) was fighting the Japanese fiercely by collaborating with the communists and the Russians. Then after the Japanese were gone, the Nationalists had to fight the Communists in a civil war amid their own corrupted administration. In the end they had to retreat to Taiwan which had already been governed by Japan for 50 years.
It is under this backdrop the movie attempts to depict three tragic romances in a turbulent era: a marriage between a Kuomintang general Lei Yifang (Huang Xiaoming) and wealthy young woman Zhou Yufen (Korean actress Song Hye-kyo) who plays the piano very well; a Taiwanese army doctor Yan Zekun (Takeshi Kaneshiro) for the Japanese army and his Japanese girlfriend Masako (Japanese actress Nagami Nagasawa) in Taiwan; and a pseudo relationship for convenience between a Kuomintang soldier Tong Daqing (Tong Dawei) and a country woman Yu Zhen (Zhang Ziyi) looking for her lost lover in the army. Looking at the background and the complexity of each relationship, perhaps each could have been developed into an independent story, thus exploring the themes of social class, national identity, political ideology versus practical survival, cultural differences, loyalty in the army versus morality etc. Instead, producers have squeezed these romances together and packed with tons of visually impressive battle and explosion scenes, later to be converted into 3-D. It just does not work very well.
The worst part is how the plot is crafted: there is very little character development/interaction or relationship depiction that path the way to convince the audience that the relationships help the characters to get through their tough lives which seems to be one main theme of the movie. Most of their longing for each other are based on narration either through letters or reading from a diary where audience cannot see how and why they miss/love each other so much. Then the editing is so abrupt that it feels very choppy: the audience are always led to other scenes and emotions when one scene is not even fully developed.
As for the acting, the poor plot and script development inhibits the actors from portraying complex emotions. Thus it is very hard for the audience to feel moved. Among the cast, Zhang Ziyi has done the best among others but we still have limited feelings for her. On that point, if including a Korean and Japanese cast is for marketing consideration, I begin to feel the political considerations for portraying the Nationalists in a negative light to cater for the Chinese market would really hinder the movie's artistic development.
Whenever there are three subplots in a movie, there should be some relationships between them – a good example is Disconnect - but in The Crossing the connection is quite weak, not to mention the three romances are quite superficial in themselves and could have been heavily reworked.
Even the make up/camera angle is poor which fail to bring out the radiant youth of the characters. Too many close ups exposing the aged faces when the actors are supposed to be teenagers. These could have been easily fixed by after production but obviously not taken care of.
All in all, I feel quite a waste of huge budget on the explosion scenes and historic background. In terms of depicting ordinary lives during wartime, Little House is much much better. I think The Crossing aims too high, overextends itself too much to hit a too wide spectrum of audience. Thus it has compromised its literal, historical and artistic value.
Lastly, even the preview of part II is done tactlessly which cannot entice the audience to crave for more. One probably does not miss much not watching this, let alone part II. Too bad.