DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP may be a better movie in the eyes of people who speak Chinese. However, if you don’t speak Chinese, and even if you do love subtitled movies, the subtitles in this movie are too much, not to mention the fact that there is a constant stream of obscene subtitles at some points in the movie.
The movie opens in 1945 in Northern China, which is being occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army. A small group of Japanese soldiers are marching into a tiny village playing a marching tune on their western instruments.
At the same time, Ma Dasan is fornicating with his mistress when a knock on his door forces him to hide his mistress in the trunk. As soon as he opens the door, a gun is thrust in his face. Two burlap bags full of Japanese prisoners are thrown into his hut. Dasan is told to keep the Japanese prisoners and interrogate them. The captor with the gun says that he will come back for the prisoners on New Years day.
One of the Japanese prisoners is an enraged soldier who keeps cursing Dasan and all the Chinese. The other is actually the Chinese translator for the Japanese, who translates these curses into meaningless phrases such as “Thank you, Grandad” and “Happy New Year.”
The days drift into months as the peasants try figure out what to do with these prisoners. They feed them and nurse their wounds, and curse each other.
Eventually, Dasan and a small group of peasants go to the local city to hire an executioner. They recruit an old man who is not able to behead the prisoners. The prisoners, in turn, make a deal that, if they are returned to the Japanese garrison, they will give the village three cartloads of grain.
The Japanese commander is infuriated, but believes in the honor of the Japanese troops so much that he sends the grain with the regiment. When they get to the village, the commander throws a party for the peasants. He commands the peasants to shoot the Japanese prisoner. When they don’t, he orders the Japanese soldiers to bayonet, behead, mutilate, and burn the peasants in the fire, and then burn the village.
Dasan escapes this slaughter because he’s gone to get his girlfriend to rejoice in his victory. In the middle of the slaughter, word is sent that the Imperial Army has surrendered to the Americans.
Cut to the head of the Chinese army accepting the surrender of the Japanese with words of commendation. Then the Chinese major calls forth a peasant who collaborated and orders that the peasant’s brains are blown out at point blank range.
Dasan, who is a pacifist throughout the movie, is finally driven to kill. He clubs and beats several of the Japanese, and is eventually captured and beheaded. Before he dies, his decapitated head watches the Japanese soldier who beheaded him turn his sword over to the Chinese major.
This Marxist satire clearly indicates that, no matter who’s in power, the peasants get the wrong end of the deal. The Japanese abuse the peasants and the Chinese Army abuses them.
The acting in DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP is extremely realistic. The storyline, however, goes from the comic to the tragic to a grotesque satire and does so in such a prolonged manner that the movie becomes almost un-watchable. At times, there’s a constant stream of foul language, especially the “f” word, in the subtitles. Extended scenes of extreme violence occur, including body members being cut off, people beaten, decapitations, and point blank shootings. Even cannibalism is discussed. As if to underline the violence, the old philosopher of the village is bayoneted, and the soldier takes several moments to remove the bayonet while the old man dies. Then, the young boy who loves Dasan is bayoneted for looking to the Japanese for protection. These cruel actions are combined with laughter, ridicule and the constant singing of the Japanese martial band.
DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP is not a pleasant movie, and the lack of hope at the end destroys any of the virtues one may have found in it. It is a bitter satire, which will be quickly forgotten outside of China.
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(Pa, Co, LLL, VVV, SS, NN, A, D, M) Pagan worldview with the Marxist message that the peasant always gets the wrong end of the stick; 63 obscenities and 2 profanities; lots of violence, including old man bayoneted, boy bayoneted, man's head cut off, detached head watches Japanese soldier hand sword to Chinese soldier, bloody beatings, kickings, and point blank shootings, with blood; intercourse shown and then discussed; brief female nudity, upper male nudity and men in thongs; drinking and smoking; and, cowardice, groveling, wounded pride, and references to ancestors and reincarnation.
GENRE: Drama/War Movie