HOMAGE TO HEROES
A Chinese TV series on the KoreanWar will be broadcast nationwide for the first time. Xu Fan reports on the emotional behind-the-scenes journey of its makers.
The atmosphere turned somber when actor Zhan Shigang spoke of Chinese casualty figures at a recent Beijing event to promote his upcoming TV series, The 38th Parallel.
More than 180,000 Chinese soldiers were killed, 383,000 were injured and 25,000 went missing during the Korean War that was waged for three years from 1950.
“They deserve our homage today,” Zhan said last week, bowing to his knees.
Other members of the series’ cast and crew were also present.
The 38-episode series, which will be aired from May 28 on Beijing Satellite TV, follows the journey of two Chinese fishermenwholive by the Yalu River in Northeast China as they transform into fighters to protect their country and the neighboring Democratic People’s Republic of Korea during the war.
Witnessing American bombings kill their families, the protagonists of the series join some 1.35 million Chinese soldiers in the fight.
The United States was supporting the Republic of Korea during the conflict and was involved in the region before 1950 as well.
Although Chinese films about the war were made earlier, The 38th Parallel is the first TV drama on the subject to be broadcast nationwide in more than six decades.
Its scriptwriter Wang Haiping says he decided to write the story in 2013 and soon received support from a top regulator for TV and related sectors.
Wang did lots of research, including reading documents and files from the US Military Academy and the military archives ofROK. He says every character in the series is inspired by reality.
“They (the soldiers) were great men,” says Wang. “Each time I sat down to write an emotional part of the series, I couldn’t hold backmy tears.”
Speaking of Li Changshun, one of the series’ lead characters, Wang says the role is based on a Chinese sniper and a fisherman whose family members were killed in American bombing along China’s border with DPRK in 1950.
The series’ storyline looks at three main areas — fighting, transportation and a field hospital— and aims to re-create what happened during the war.
After a few episodes aired earlier in selected provinces, footage of the series released on the internet received viewer acclaim, such as 8.9 points of 10 on the country’s most popular movie review site Douban.
Some online users also said the sequences featuring battles reminded them of the hit US series Band of Brothers. That war drama was produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in 2001.
Meng Ji, the Chinese TV series’ director, says up to 80 percent of the battle scenes are based on history. The crew hired an expert team that specializes onKoreanWar history to guarantee that props and sets closely resembled arms, equipment and other items used in that war.
Two replicas of theM4Sherman tank— used by American forces during World War II — were among the series’ most expensive props.
When asked if such themes could lure viewers in an age now dominated by fantasy and romance dramas, the director says history deserves to be respected.
“We didn’t make the series for money or entertainment.
“It’s our duty to let presentday audiences know who sacrificed their lives for the peace and stability of our country,” saysMeng.
He also criticizes TV programs that tend to exaggerate history, saying theyhave a negative impact on young minds.
Zhang Guoqiang, the lead actor who plays fisherman Li, says he couldn’t reject the role despite playing many military characters before. He learned the accents of the two Korean countries to make sure his dialogues were real.
“The Chinese soldiers’ spirit and courage gave me inspiration, even at a personal level,” says Zhang, 46.
He injured one of his knees during the shooting. The doctor asked him to rest for a month, but he insisted on working.
Zhang Hongrui, another actor in the series, says brotherhood and romance that also feature in the production are inspired from wartime happenings.
It’s our duty to let present-day audiences know who sacrificed their lives for the peace and stability of our country.”
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TV series The38thParallel focuses on Chinese soldiers in the Korean War in the 1950s.