A film portraying the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War is set to become the biggest box-office hit of 2021, after grossing $633.2 million in China during the first 10 days of its theatrical release.
The Battle at Lake Changjin is projected to earn a total of $830 million during its theatrical run in China, a total which would make it the top-grossing film of the year. Its budget was more than $200 million, making it the most expensive Chinese production to date.
The Battle of Chosin Reservoir was fought between the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) of China and those forces under the United Nations during the Korean War. From November 27 to December 13, 1950, UN forces, including the US Army, advanced into North Korea in an attempt to destroy the remaining Korean People’s Army (KPA) units and reunite Korea under a single government.
It was hoped the battle would be the final offensive of the conflict. In late November, Task Force MacLean and the 7th Infantry Division were part of the US Army’s X Corps, under the command of Major General Edward M. Almond. They and other UN forces were steadily advancing along the eastern side of the Korean peninsula, toward the Yalu River, when on November 27 they were surprised by PVA forces.
The 30,000 UN troops, under the field command of Major General Oliver P. Smith, were surrounded by 120,000 Chinese soldiers ordered to destroy their units. The rough terrain and conditions made the fight difficult, and after 17 days the UN forces retreated down the Korean peninsula to the port of Hungnam and withdrew from North Korea, suffering heavy casualties.
While the Battle of Chosin Reservoir is portrayed by American historians as a US-led fight for survival against incredible odds, the perspective brought forth by The Battle at Lake Changjin tells a different story. It portrays a brave and fierce “volunteer” fighting force facing the US Army and its leader, General Douglas MacArthur.
Its official description reads:
“Set in the Second Phase Offensive of the Korean War, The Battle at Lake Changjin tells an epic historical tale: 71 years ago, the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) entered North Korea for battle. Under extreme freezing conditions, the troops on the Eastern Front pursued with fearless spirit and iron will as they courageously fought the enemy at Lake Changjin (also known as Chosin Reservoir). The battle was a turning point in the Korean War, and demonstrated the courage and resolve of the PVA.”
The film stars Wu Jing, who is known for playing characters who embody China’s self-image as the world’s most benevolent nation, as well as English-speaking actors who have made careers out of playing the enemy in Chinese-language films.
The film is seen by many to be a form of Chinese propaganda. An article published in the New York Times called it a government-sponsored movie made to resonate with the viewing public at a time when relations between China and the US are strained.
It has also caused anger in South Korea, where it’s been called out for its historical inaccuracies. South Korean senior diplomat Ra Jong-yil, who fought in the Korean War, called it “nonsense” and “whitewashing” and accused it of changing the narrative of the conflict.
There is currently no word of a US release date for The Battle at Lake Changjin.