Full River Red is a 2023 Chinese blockbuster directed by Zhang Yimou that explores various themes and messages, including patriotism, loyalty, betrayal, and history.
The movie is based on a famous poem of the same name by Yue Fei, a 12th-century general who fought against the Jurchen invaders during the Song dynasty. The poem expresses Yue Fei’s patriotic sentiments and his resentment towards Qin Hui, a prime minister who betrayed him and had him executed. The movie imagines a fictional scenario that leads to the creation of the poem, involving a complex plot of murder, deception and intrigue.
Full River Red Plot Summary
The movie begins with Qin Hui (Lei Jiayin) leading an army to the border for talks with a Jurchen mission. He is obsessed with his reputation and fears being exposed as a traitor who secretly colluded with the enemy. He also suffers from various ailments and paranoia. On his way, he encounters a dead body of a Jin delegate who was carrying a mysterious letter. He orders his men to find out who killed him and what was in the letter. He chooses Zhang Da (Shen Teng), a low-ranking corporal, as his scapegoat and gives him two hours to retrieve the letter or face execution.
Zhang Da is an incompetent and cowardly soldier who tries to save himself by implicating others in his investigation. He teams up with Sun Jun (Jackson Yee), a young deputy commander who is loyal to Qin Hui but also curious about the truth. Together, they interrogate various suspects, including Qin Hui’s advisers, guardsmen and informants. They discover that everyone has their own agenda and secrets, and that nothing is as it seems.
A Beautiful Blend of Comedy, Mystery, and History
The movie combines elements of comedy, mystery and historical drama to create an entertaining and suspenseful story. The comedy comes from Shen Teng’s performance as Zhang Da, who provides comic relief with his clumsy antics and witty remarks. The mystery comes from the twists and turns of the plot, which keep the audience guessing until the end. The historical drama comes from Zhang Yimou’s signature style of lavish costumes, sets and cinematography that recreate the Song dynasty era.
Theme 1: Patriotism
One of the main themes of the movie is patriotism: how different characters express their love for their country or their loyalty to their emperor in different ways.
Yue Fei’s poem serves as an inspiration for this theme. It shows his strong passion for defending his homeland against foreign invaders and restoring its glory after humiliation. In contrast, Qin Hui represents treason as he betrays his country for personal gain by collaborating with the enemy and sacrificing national interests for peace negotiations.
Theme 2: Loyalty
Another theme of the movie is loyalty: how different characters choose whom to trust or follow in times of crisis or conflict.
Some characters are loyal to Qin Hui out of fear or greed. They obey his orders without question or seek his favor by framing others. Some characters are loyal to Yue Fei out of respect or admiration. They admire his courage or share his ideals by fighting against injustice or corruption. Some characters are loyal to themselves out of survival or opportunism as they switch sides according to their convenience or benefit by lying or manipulating others.
Theme 3: Betrayal
A third theme of the movie is betrayal: how different characters deceive or harm each other for various reasons or motives.
Betrayal can be seen at different levels: between individuals (such as Zhang Da betraying Sun Jun), between groups (such as Qin Hui’s advisers betraying each other), between states (such as Jin betraying Song), between rulers (such as Gaozong betraying Yue Fei), or between history (such as official records betraying popular legends).
Betrayal can have different consequences: some are tragic as seen during Yue Fei’s death, some are ironic as seen in Qin Hui’s downfall, and some are comical as seen during Zhang Da’s escape.
Theme 4: Writing of History
The movie also explores how history is written by those in power or those who survive and how official records may be distorted or fabricated for political purposes or personal agendas.
We also dive into how popular legends may be exaggerated or embellished for emotional effects or cultural values, how different versions of truth may exist depending on one’s perspective or position, and how history may repeat itself in similar patterns or cycles.
Ending of Full River Red
The movie ends with a dramatic finale that reveals how Yue Fei’s poem came into being after his death at Qin Hui’s hands: it was written by one of Yue Fei’s loyal soldiers on a wall near his tomb using blood from an arrow wound. It was later engraved on a tablet by Zhao Kuan in 1502 during another war against foreign invaders near Helan Pass. It was then recited by Sun Jun who becomes inspired by Yue.