Sin­is­ter Spies in Cin­ema

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Li Jin­long Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

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.

Red Mem­o­ries

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.

Re­sound­ing Pop­u­lar­ity

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

Se­cret War

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