Embers of War
Our Take – Small Axe Radical Short Film Reviews by Cole Diment
Ting Tu’s Embers of War is an ambitious attempt to link two typically opposed forms of film-making – fictional drama and documentary – to offer a panoramic view upon historical Japanese imperialist aggression against the people of China. The film takes as its subject the five and a half year bombing campaign carried out by Japan against the city of Chongqing under the Republic of China (1912-1949).
In the first half we are placed in a fictional drama situation within the house of a seemingly middle-class family preparing for the advent of war. Ting Tu uses a blend of low-key lighting and diffuse sound to heighten our senses and place us within a receptive environment. The scene proceeds as a one scene-one shot long take, allowing us to intimately feel the dark, moody atmosphere in a lengthy participation.
The main focus in this sequence is the woman of the house – she exudes fear and instability throughout, conveying to us the affect of war on those behind the frontline. The end of the sequence throws the character’s sense of stability into tumult: after emerging onto a environ raised by bombing, the woman turns round to confront her young son who hands her his official application to membership of the Chinese Communist Party. Though not the ruling power of China at this point in time the son’s action offers us a glimpse into the tumultuous historical moment the Chinese people would have felt.
The introduction of the documentary form, though abrupt, signals the attempt to form a total dramatic picture of this event through combining the fictional (psychic atmosphere) and the factual in the presence of anecdotes from survivors of the Chongqing bombing. Overall the film is ambitious attempt at portraying this history and though we may question the extent of Chinese nationalism within its politics its populist based politics of the affect of war sits well within our No To War theme this year.