The film ‘Devils on the doorstep’ takes a very objective view at war, and hence does not project one side as a tyrant and the other as a victim. Hence, I do completely agree with the film review that suggests that “Wen Jiang, with a genius stroke, paints an image of such cruelty and helplessness while never pointing a finger at just any one side.”
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The movie starts off on a light note and then slowly reveals the darker elements of human life. The main character in the movie is Ma Dasan, a Chinese villager who accidentally gets involved in the Sino-Japanese conflict. He is basically a simpleton who does not have the heart to kill another human being, but ends up losing his entire village and life. This signifies the fact that wars, irrespective of their underlying causes and goals, never fail to take a bloody toll on innocent people. The movie shows how helpless and desolate a common man would feel in a war scenario.
The movie draws parallels to many real events of history during that period. Japan, in its quest to emerge as a Superpower during the Second World War, wanted to conquer Manchuria (Northeastern China) for strategic and economic reasons. Railroads in Manchuria were bombed by Japan and the blamed was shifted on to China, so as to use it as an excuse to invade Manchuria. This is commonly referred to as the Mukden incident (1931) which led to the successful Japanese occupation of Manchuria.
Japan further bribed certain greedy Chinese locals to rebel against the Chinese Government and run independent governments to serve Japanese interests. Thus, Japan had several regions of Northern China including Chahar, Shandong and Suiyuan, under its control in the early 1930s. The Japanese army had committed innumerable crimes against humanity during its occupation of China. Japan also conquered Chinese regions of Tianjin and Beping as a result of the Marco Polo bridge incident (1937), when a Japanese soldier went missing and a battle ensued when Chinese denied access into their village.
At in one point in the movie, Dasan’s whole village is burnt down by the Japanese Army just out of mere suspicion. The movie shows the atrocious conditions and constant fear thrust upon innocent people during war periods. It reiterates the “Total War” theory which suggests that modern day wars will be fought well out of the battlefield and take up civilian lives. However, things change quickly when Japanese soldiers become Prisoners of War following Japanese surrender in the World War II. Japan’s concession of defeat was inevitable after America used nuclear weapons in the Japanese twin cities and Russia’s conquest of Manchuria.
In the movie, when Dasan finally tries to seek vengeance over the Japanese soldiers for destroying his village, he is captured and beheaded by the very same man whom he once protected. While the captured Japanese sergeant who initially had intense hatred for the Chinese, changes his views when he personally witnesses the warmth of the Chinese villagers. This shows that even the most unruffled soldiers are just human beings with a compassionate soul. It is just unfortunate that wars turn men into barbaric soldiers who kill without asking questions. It also goes to show that governments, be it democratic or communist, pawn innocent people’s patriotic sentiments and use lame excuses to wage unjustified wars.