The Bombing is, for the most part, a glorious World War II epic, boosting rich production design, a solid script and rounded performances but is hampered by two terrible performances from its Hollywood contingent and some dodgy special-effects.
This sumptuous epic of wartime romance, military incursion and domestic unrest set against the backdrop of China in 1937 should be awe inspiring. Vast sweeping vistas, mountainous regions clashing with lush green forest and a cast of top class actors, lavish set design and heartrending story arcs. What we get instead are solid Asian actors working hard combining dramatic heavy lifting, comedic moments and heart breaking pathos, while one A-lister phones in his performance and another seems to be on holiday.
To begin with, The Bombing is indeed a glorious World War II epic, boosting rich production design, a solid script and rounded performances from the Asian contingent. Each of the five arcs are introduced with economy and brought together over the space of two hours, to provide a flag-waving finale. My only criticism with The Bombing is how bias it is in favour of certain factions. Those unfortunate actors who were cast to play the Japanese enemy are only ever seen looking devious in a nondescript war room, or sitting around cursing the Chinese. It watches for the most part like a piece of flag-waving propaganda designed for Asian audiences to get behind.
Forgive my cynicism but China is now the second largest film market worldwide and therefore The Bombing does smack of profiteering bias, especially as Bruce Willis is alongside Adrien Brody as the token Hollywood attraction. Something which is transparently calculated, Willis clocks up about twenty minutes of screen time, in which he primarily mumbles and looks sombre. Whereas Brody fails to show up until almost an hour in looking deeply tanned as a hospital explodes around him.
If anything, The Bombing would have benefited from having neither actor in it at all, as the content, existing cast and story, although slightly disjointed and slow in places, worked better without them. Willis is clearly in it for the money and barely cracks a smile while the other actors around him are acting through strait jackets. One has to wonder whether Willis had some overt influence on his lines, motivations or character arc that compromised the end product. However, for comedy value there is a sequence when Willis is flying a bomber with googles on which reminded me of John Belushi in Steven Spielberg’s 1941, causing me to laugh out loud.
Overall the effects work goes from laughably dire to tent pole production status as set piece explosions and pyrotechnics worthy of bigger movies add realism. Tonally the same could be said as moments of drama often sit awkwardly alongside comedy or dramatically vacuous scenes, where an Easter Island Willis shuffles through his dialogue avoiding eye contact. Tom Hanks breathed more life into The Polar Express and you never saw his face. There are numerous other holes to be exposed in The Bombing but what ultimately comes out of this is the belief that there is a great film in here somewhere. And what China need to do is trust in the quality of their own work, without feeling the need to lever arch pointless and drab cameos from Hollywood A-listers in there for financial purposes. Or at least if they feel compelled to do so get someone who gives a damn like Kurt Russell or Sam Elliott.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Xiao Feng
Written by: Ping Chen, Tie Dong Zhou
Starring: Ye Liu, Bruce Willis, Seung-heon Song
The Bombing is released on DVD and Digital HD on October 29.