Dunkirk's Immersive Storytelling Storms Chinese Cinemas

September 6, 2017  Editor: Candy Liao

With his latest war film "Dunkirk," Christopher Nolan yet again has his name buzzing across China.

As of Sunday, only its third day of public screening in the Chinese mainland, the film had already raked in over 197 million yuan (about 30.1 million U.S. dollars).

On Douban, a major Chinese film rating platform, Dunkirk is currently rated 8.6 out of 10, sitting comfortably in the top 10 percent of both war and history films.

For many Chinese fans, the director was the main drawcard.

"I went to see the film because of Nolan," said Huang Ziyun, a moviegoer, whose opinion was echoed by many others. "His films have always delivered, so I had faith and high expectations in this one."

"I'm also very interested in films that depict history," she continued.

The film did not disappoint. Telling the story of the evacuation of British and French soldiers who were surrounded by the German army during a fierce battle in World War II, Dunkirk puts the audience through an immersive experience that many have found unique.

"There were many scenes that imposed an oppressive feeling on me, such as the scene where a number of young soldiers hid in a cabin which became the target for German soldiers' shooting drill," said Shen Cong, a viewer in Beijing.

"It dragged the audience to the battleground right from the get-go," said a user named QueerasfolkChina on Douban. "The three storylines overlapped one another, making us struggle and panic inside out."

He was referring to the storylines that consisted of a week for the soldiers desperately waiting for a beach rescue, a day for a family sailing from England to the rescue, and an hour for a group of fighter pilots shielding the rescue from the air, which intertwined with each other and converged in the end.

"I love the way Nolan has resorted to minimalism in telling the stories," he added. "Without much blood and violence, it easily presented the tension and brutality of war."

Huang agreed. "Unlike most other war films, it doesn't draw a clear line between love and hate," she said. "It's more about showing the emotions and senses in the thick of an evacuation."

Their words echoed those by Nolan himself in August. "This story is about suspense. Suspense is a cinematic language where you can't take your eyes off the screen," he told Xinhua.

"Time in any film is a very interesting tool for filmmakers to use," he continued.

For viewers, his take on time and suspense might be less convincing without the ear-scratching and tension-building music produced by German composer Hans Zimmer.

"The soundtrack is the most significant source for an immersive experience," Huang said, highlighting the role of the sounds in intriguing the audience.

"Zimmer also resorted to minimalism for this film, which fits very well with the ambience that Nolan wanted to create," Shen added. "Even though the ever-rumbling background sounds distracted me from the plots a bit."

After all, apart from all the suspense and ambience, as Nolan told Xinhua, Dunkirk is a story "about communal heroism - about the cumulative effect of small acts of human heroism and what we can achieve together, rather than individually."

That's part of why a lot of viewers are confident the film will continue to attract Chinese moviegoers, even though it doesn't directly relate to Chinese history and it is immersive yet unorthodox in a way.

"There are no boundaries for the appeal of this film," Huang said. "It allows us to look at warfare from a unique angle."

Others simply took it as a call for peace.

"Just take it as a anti-war story to follow, and you'll be touched as I was," said Mao Zhuxin, a viewer from southwest China's Chongqing.

"May peace prevail on earth." she continued.

(Source: Xinhua)

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