Shangrao Concentration Camp

dir. Meng Sha, Zhang Ke

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Two female Communist prisoners resist torture and plot escape from the hellish confines of a Nationalist prison in this intense and stunningly photographed POW drama.


One of the major discoveries of our series and one of the greatest POW films of all time, Shangrao Concentration Camp is set in the hellish confines of a Guomindang (Nationalist) prison, where the brutal officials try to force two female Communist prisoners to reveal their leader's identity and location. While its subject and year of production might suggest a propaganda film, Shangrao has garnered some interesting (if chronologically impossible) comparisons to Bresson from some critics for its intense, haunting minimalism, though its true roots are in the Soviet cinema then widely distributed in China; in particular, the great cinematographer Zhu Jinming offers a brilliant echo of Dovzhenko's overwhelming landscapes in his images of China's rugged northern climes. With an extraordinary use of long takes and surprisingly mobile camera movements accentuating the passionate, earthy performances of leads Tang Hua Da and Jiang Jun, Shangrao Concentration Camp is "a powerful meditation on human relations under pressure" (Paul Clark, Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics Since 1949).