Sinister Spies in Cinema
The newly-released film Secretwar reminds audiences of another movie, The Eternal Wave, from several decades ago. Over the years, undercover agents in the movies have been best remembered for their valiance.
In 1937, in the aftermath of the Battle of Shanghai, the city fell into enemy hands. Lin Xiang was sent to Shanghai on a mission to reconstruct of the anti-japanese underground front where he got acquainted with Lan Fang, a simple yet righteous woman. The temporary couple struggled to survive against the Japanese and spies of the puppet government.
The film Secret War reminds audiences of another movie, The Eternal Wave, several decades ago. The former is described as a homage to the latter. Conflict keeps audiences engaged. Over the years, undercover agents have been best remembered for their valiance.
Invisible Fronts produced by Changchun Film Studio in 1949 related the tenacious struggle between public security organs and hostile elements in the wake of the Northeast Liberation. The movie ends with a quote from Chairman Mao Zedong (1893–1976):“After we returned home in triumph, enemies without guns are already a force to be reckoned with. They remain steadfast in their determination to fight for dear life.”
Invisible Fronts marked the beginning of genre movies. All major studios scrambled to shoot these movies from the 1950s to early 1960s. Those works captured the spirit of an age. Upbeat characters were brave and resourceful, with little regard for their own safety. Pessimistic characters, by contrast, were craven deserters, indulging in antics. With the viewfinder and grading, one could tell the difference almost at a glance. In the midst of the wave, a number of blockbuster movies came out, including Mysterious Travelling Companion, Visitors on the Icy Mountain, Ten O’clock on the National Day, Secret Drawing, The Blue File and Secret Post in Canton. Based on true stories, Secrete Drawing and Secret Post in Canton received popular acclaim.
Secret Drawing takes audiences back in time to the early 1960s, telling of Li Hua, a scientific researcher who somehow lost his briefcase filled with state secrets at the railway station. Shi Yun was sent on an investigation mission. She enlisted the help of her husband Chen Liang, a military officer, and solved the crime. Directed by Hao Guang, the movie's allstar cast, including Tian Hua, Xing Jitian and Wang Xingang, proved impressive. It was the first spy film to cast a woman protagonist after the founding of the People's Republic of China. A police officer on alert appeared on screen. The movie was the latest craze sweeping the
country, as it turned out. It enjoyed equal popularity as the Tunnel Warfare, Landmine Warfare and Fight North and South (Three Wars and One Secret). The TV drama Secret Drawing made its debut in 2009. Directed by Guo Jingyu and Bai Shan, the movie starred Wang Zhifei, Wang Xiaojuan and Yang Zhigang. Two to four episodes in the opening chapter are based on the old film, paying tribute. However, the TV drama take its origins from the film, contributing to the plot. Changes were made depending on how the plot.
The Secret Post in Canton, based on the most heinous crime in the city, were shown at all major movie theatres in 1957 and it was also impressive. In the early days after liberation, the enemy spy (code: 209) was captured by the frontier forces. To get to the bottom of it, public officer Wang Lian kept in touch with the agent under the assumed name of the spy (code: 209). Aunt Ba and he kept a high profile, pretending to be a couple. The plot thickened and kept audiences in great suspense. Repeated inversion of Aunt Mei's identity moulded and coloured a large number of spy films. Meanwhile, the story was set in the context of Canton, along with the familiar Haizhu Bridge and Yuexiu Mountain. All these lent credence to the film and consequently it proved to be a blockbuster after the movie had its premiere. Finding an echo in the popular Kunqu Opera movie Fifteen Strings of Cash the year before, the Secret Post in Canton was supreme and unchallenged and pointed the way to the future of detective films.
Premiered in 1958, the Eternal Wave was directed by Wang Ping and boasted an all-star cast, including Sun Daolin, Yuan Xia, Lu Lizhu and Wang Xingang. The story was set in the context of Li Bai, a member of the Communist Party in Shanghai. The breathtaking struggle was closely bound up with domestic life. Moreover, behavior at its most commonplace may be illustrated by hiding the telegraph manuscript in the cake and telegraph code in the matchbox, coming as a revelation. Sun Daolin acted the part of Li Xia and audiences were lavish in their praise for his performance. As it turned out, his optimism, determination and dedication won high praise from the critics.
Espionage Stages Comeback
After the reform, domestic spy films ushered in a second wave. During the period, films failed to go behind the stereotypes, but the antagonists always changed. Instead of bringing discredit on them, intrigues were employed to tell the difference from the original, thus making their sanctimony and shrewdness come under the spotlight. In the meantime, the Great Wall on the South-china Sea, Three Black Triangles and The Gunshots of Secrecy Bureau also debuted successively.
Three Black Triangles premiered in 1977. Directed by Liu Chunlin and Chen Fangqian, the movie boasted an all-star cast, including Zhang Ping, Lei Ming, Liu Jia and Ling Yuan. The movie turned on the crackdown on crime and the acquisition of the code of “Civil Air Defence Works (110),” a tribute to the policeman's resourcefulness and bravery. By comparison, Three Black Triangles was shot beautifully to an intricate plot. Ling Yuan was cast as an old woman touting a popsicle, taking her performance to a new level.
Directed by Chang Yan, the Gunshots of Secrecy Bureau was adapted from Lyu Zheng's novel, Fighting in the Enemy’s Heart. The movie related that Liu Xiaochen worked in close collaboration with his comradesin-arms to work in espionage. Scrupulous attention was paid to the mystery. Nine gunshots at four points ran through the movie and they played a significant role in the conflict. One gunshot after another brought the movie to a climax. After its premiere, the movie was spoken of glowingly and exemplified another genre movie at its height. Directed by Gao Qunshu and Hou Mingjie, the drama version starring Xie Junhao, Zhang Lei, Liu Weiwei and Wang Kuirong made its debut in 2008. Considerable changes were made to costumes and framing. The movie tried to escape from avenging boredom by bringing in new ideas.
A Hand Cuffed Passenger came to cinemas in 1980. Directed by Yu Yang, it proved to be another at the peak of spy films. The film told of Liu Jie, an honest-butframed scout, who managed to outwit the murder Su Zhe. The daring scout smoothed
away any difficulties when he reached them, finally bringing into justice the agent stealing national secrets. It was released shortly after the premiere of the Japanese film Manhunt, to which it bore close resemblance. What's more, A Hand Cuffed Passenger is to be explained not least by its thrills, mystery and crime that commercial films entail, but its reawakening of China's film market and moviegoers.
After the 1980s, spy films and dramas were consigned to oblivion. At the turn of the 21st century, TV dramas (like Plot Against and Insidious) and films ( Sound of the Wind, for instance) proved to be blockbusters; the drama version of classic films came to the screens, large or small—like Harbin Enveloped in Darkness, The Blue File, 18 Years in Enemy Camp, Intrepid Hero, Struggles in an Ancient City and Depot. No.51. Spy films staged a comeback.
The TV drama of spy film Plot Against was adapted from the namesake novel written by Mai Jia. After its premiere in 2005, the drama was supreme and unchallenged. It was directed by Liu Yunlong, who also played a protagonist role and it boasted an all-star cast, including Chen Shu, Wang Baoqiang and Gao Ming. The drama consisted of three chapters, Listening to the Wind, Seeing the Wind and Catching the Wind and the full story about special agents was made public. Granted, it falls into the category of theme drama; but it is worthy of a commercial work, as distinct from others. The drama was awarded the Best Screenplay at the 13th Shanghai TV Festival Magnolia Ceremony in 2007, an eloquent testimony to the masterpiece.
During that time, the majority of spy dramas broke the mould. Apart from elaboration, a vast array of characters were described in great detail. Not only background and patriotism were featured, but these dramas and movies plumbed the depths of sufferings and struggles of the characters. Sound of the Wind (2009), adapted from the novel written by Mai
Jia, is such a movie. In addition, it is widely acknowledged as the beginning of the third wave of spy films.
Sound of the Wind related assassinations of high-ranking officers which placed the Japanese army on high alert in 1942. To identify the culprit, the Japanese army and puppet army brought to trial five insiders, namely Gu Xiaomeng, Li Ningyu, Wu Zhiguo, Bai Xiaonian and Jin Shenghuo. A series of dramatic events took place behind the scenes. Pitting their wits against each other brought the plot to one climax after another. Directed by Chen Guofu and Gao Qunshu, the movie boasted an star-studded cast, including Zhou Xun, Li Bingbing, Huang Xiaoming, Zhang Hanyu, Su Youpeng and Wang Zhiwen. After having its premiere, the movie came as a revelation to audiences. Li Bingbing, acting the part of Li Ningyu, was presented with the 46th Taiwan Golden Horse Award for Best Actress in 2009; and Su Youpeng, acting the part of Bai Xiaonian, was presented with the 30th Popular Movie Hundred Flowers Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2010.
The Sound of the Wind came to the big screen and Insidious to small screens. The latter turned out to be a hit TV drama in 2009, and enjoyed popularity and was adored by young and old alike, proving to be the most successful TV drama following Plot Against. Insidious was adapted from the novel of the same name written by Long Yi. Directed by Jiang Wei and Fu Wei the movie boasted
an all-star cast, including Sun Honglei, Yao Chen, Zu Feng, Feng Enhe, Wu Gang and Shen Aojun. In the aftermath of the AntiJapanese War, Yu Zecheng inched his way into the enemy camp and worked together with Cui Ping, a captain of female guerrillas, to accomplish one mission after another. By comparison, Insidious is infused with humour, helping to ease tension and mould characters dear to audiences. Yu Zecheng's maturity and restraint, with Cui Ping's honesty, were firmly rooted in their memories and experiences. Even the pessimistic characters generated a lot of interest, like “shrine” Li Ya, Station Master Wu Jingzhong and Lu Qiaoshan, head of the Intelligence Agency.
Mysterious Agent for Classic Series
Spy films traces its history farther back in other parts of the world than China. Greta Garbo played the protagonist in Mata Hari in 1934. The movie turned on the life of the famous spy during the First World War, recognised as one of the earliest spy films. Director Alfred Hitchcock created the formula for such films. In his own words, “An innocent person found himself invovled in a mystery. Following a series of investigations, a backstage manipulator was to blame.” So, Dr. No came out in 1962. Terence Young was credited as director and it was adapted from the namesake novel written by Fleming, ushering in an age of mysterious heroes.
“007” denotes James Bond's spy code at Military Intelligence Section Six, a British intelligence agency, empowered to wipe out hostile forces. Though James Bond had gone through terrible ordeals, he could survive at the critical juncture. Meanwhile, he was in the enviable position of striking up a romantic relationship. Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig acted the part of 007 more often than George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton. All these actors were generally acknowledged as handsome. James Bond was resourceful, brave, ruthless and amorous. Engulfed by beautiful women and advanced technologies employed were well in advance of the age in which he lived. Since its premiere on October 5, 1962, these movies never lost their globe-sweeping craze.
After 007 went viral, many “challengers” created many spy filmss. Directed by Sidney J. Furie, the Ipcress File made a series of movies about British spy Harry Palmer in 1965. Possibly because both had their origins in the United Kingdom, the series couldn't challenge 007 until the world premiere of Mission: Impossible in 1996, directed by Brian De Palma. This American spy film proved to be a box office success ever since the 007 movies.
Adapted from the same drama for CBS in the 1960s and 70s, the movie's theme on the Intelligence Agency was on an impossible mission. Ethan Hunt was no ordinary agent. The Mission: Impossible movie series was set in the context of modern network. The series was infused with fighting, thrilling and an intricate plot, distinct from summer blockbusters of the same period. Since the movie's debut, Mission: Impossible has been raking it in, with five films shot over a span of 20 years.
Mission: Impossible has undergone gradual changes from the first episode to the fifth, like an ongoing sequel to the movies; and shooting seems to have become notoriously difficult. Tom Cruise acted the part of Ethan Hunt into his fifties. The movies still attract a loyal fan base; but there will be few opportunities to feast their eyes on his performance par excellence because of his age.
Sound of the Wind
Actor Liu Yunlong in Plot Against
The Gunshots of Secrecy Bureau
Struggles in an Ancient City
Visitors on the Icy Mountain