Zhan Shigang was at an event promoting the Chinese TV series he is acting in, The 38th Parallel. The series is set during the Korean War and the crowd at the event was somber as he discussed the casualty figures from that war. Over 180,000 Chinese soldiers were killed, 383,000 were injured, and 25,000 are missing as a result of the conflict which took place over three years starting in 1950. “They deserve our homage today,” Zhan said as he bowed to his knees.
Also present were other members of the cast and crew. The 38-episode series begins airing on May 28th on Beijing Satellite TV. It follows the journey of the two Chinese fishermen living by the Yalu River in Northeast China as they become fighters protecting their country and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
After witnessing American bombings that killed their families, the protagonists join 1.35 million Chinese soldiers in the war. The United States supported the Republic of Korea during the conflict and was involved in the region prior to 1950.
Chinese films have previously been made about the war but The 38th Parallel is the first TV drama in more than 60 years to be made about the conflict. Wang Hai-ping, the scriptwriter, said that he decided to write the story in 2013 and received support from one of the top regulators for TV and related sectors.
Wang did a lot of research, which included reading documents and files from the US Military Academy and the military archives of the ROK. He says that he based each character on reality. “They (the soldiers) were great men,” says Wang. “Each time I sat down to write an emotional part of the series, I couldn’t hold back my tears.”
Wang said that Li Changshun, one of the main characters, is based on a Chinese sniper and a fisherman whose family was killed in an American bombing attack along the Chinese border with DPRK in 1950.
The story looks at three aspects of the war – fighting, transportation, and a field hospital. It aims to recreate what happened in the war.
The country’s most popular movie review site, Douban, rated footage from early episodes as 8.9 out of 10. Some people on the internet said that the battle sequences reminded them of the US series Band of Brothers, produced by Steven and Spielberg and Tom Hanks in 2001.
The director, Meng Ji, said that 80% of the battle scenes are based on history. They hired a team of experts who specialize in the history of the Korean War to guarantee that the props and sets would closely match up with the actual arms, equipment, and other items used in the war. Among the most expensive props used were two replicas of an M4 Sherman tank used by American troops during World War II.
The director was asked if the themes of the series could grab the attention of viewers when they seem to prefer fantasy and romance dramas. He replied that history deserves to be respected. “We didn’t make the series for money or entertainment. It’s our duty to let present-day audiences know who sacrificed their lives for the peace and stability of our country,” said Meng. He was also critical of TV programs that exaggerate history. He claims that they have a negative impact on young minds.
Zhang Guoqiang plays fisherman Li. He said he couldn’t reject the role despite the fact that he’s played military characters before. He learned the accents of the two Korean countries to make sure his dialogues were real. “The Chinese soldiers’ spirit and courage gave me inspiration, even at a personal level,” said Zhang, 46. During shooting, Zhang injured one of his knees. The doctor recommended he rest for a month but he insisted on continuing to work.
Zhang Hongrui, another actor in the series, said that the brotherhood and romance that are featured in the show are inspired by true wartime occurrences.