Back to 1942

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Back to 1942
Back to 1942.jpg
Film poster
Traditional 一九四二
Simplified 一九四二
Mandarin Yī Jǐu Sì Èr
Directed by Feng Xiaogang
Produced by
Written by Liu Zhenyun
Starring Zhang Guoli
Chen Daoming
Li Xuejian
Zhang Hanyu
Fan Wei
Feng Yuanzheng
Xu Fan
Tim Robbins
Adrien Brody
Music by Zhao Jiping
Cinematography Lü Yue
Edited byXiao Yang
Release date
  • 29 November 2012 (2012-11-29)
Running time
146 minutes
LanguageMandarin, English, Japanese
Budget¥210 million
Box office¥364 million [1]

Back to 1942 is a 2012 Chinese historical film directed by Feng Xiaogang. [2] It is based on Liu Zhenyun's novel Remembering 1942, and is about a major famine in Henan, China, during the Second Sino-Japanese War. On 11 November 2012, the film premiered at the International Rome Film Festival. [3] The film was selected as the Chinese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, [4] but was not nominated.



The film is set in Henan, China in the winter of 1942, during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Master Fan is a wealthy landlord in a village in Henan. When the village is suffering from famine, Fan still has plenty of food to feed his family and the villagers. A group of bandits come and rob the village, eventually burning it down to the ground. Fan's son dies in the process of stopping the bandits.

Fan flees his hometown with his daughter, wife and daughter-in-law. They are accompanied by a servant, Shuanzhu. While they are fleeing to the west, they meet Xialu, a fellow villager, and the latter's family. They decide to travel together, but Fan's food supply and money are stolen by NRA soldiers amidst the chaos caused by Japanese bombing.

Brother Sim insists on preaching the Catholic faith in the starving province. After surviving a few Japanese bombings and witnessing many innocent people dying, he takes refuge under Father Megan but starts doubting the presence of God.

Meanwhile, TIME correspondent Theodore H. White treks to Henan to investigate the famine. He discovers that while people are dying every day and some have even resorted to cannibalism, the Nationalist Government is still not doing anything to help the refugees. Chiang Kai-shek even wants to give up defending Henan, leaving the refugees to the Japanese. White's report is eventually published in the magazine, causing the Nationalist Government to make a U-turn on their policy. However, when relief supplies are being distributed in the province, the local officials and soldiers start fighting over who should receive a larger share.

The plight of Master Fan continues as his family members die one by one. He is eventually forced to sell his daughter into prostitution in return for food. Losing hope on life, he heads back to the east in the hope of dying somewhere near his home. On his way back, he meets a little girl who has just lost her mother. He adopts the girl as his granddaughter and they continue their journey.


Alec Su's scenes as T. V. Soong were deleted in the final cut of the film. [5]


Back to 1942 received mixed reviews. It has a 40% approval rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 10 reviews with an average rating of 5.2/10. [6] Metacritic gave the film a score of 41/100 based on six reviews. [7]

Xan Brooks of The Guardian wrote:

Back to 1942 ... gives us history written in banner headlines and trumpeted by bugles. If it could bring itself to quieten down, it might be more successful. [8]

Dan Fainaru of Screen Daily wrote:

An imposing, technically sophisticated achievement, Back To 1942 (Yi Jiu Si Er) covers a lot of ground and deals with a large cast of characters, but somehow, as if to confirm the old saying that one man dying is a tragedy but a million deaths is a statistic figure, it is rather the size of his film and the dexterity that went into its making which will affect Western audiences more than its contents. [9]

Giovanni Vimercati of wrote:

Compared to your average CGI-inflated blockbuster, "Back to 1942" scores in its meticulous attention to detail — everything from costumes to make-up do not shy away from displaying its generous budget. However, despite investing considerable creative energy and capital in the representation of hunger and deprivation, the film fails to convey human suffering on an emotional level. It will be very interesting to see how the film performs on American screens since hunger, in Hollywood as well as in modern China, is a taboo almost on a par with sex. [10]

Daniel Eagan of Film Journal wrote:

Clearly a huge undertaking, the film is a relatively even-handed account of a famine which killed three million people. But the storytelling in Back to 1942 is so careful that it fails to build much interest or emotion. [11]


The film won the A.I.C. Award for Best Cinematography during its premiere at the International Rome Film Festival in November 2012, and the Golden Butterfly Award. [12]

It also won the Best Film of Mainland and Taiwan at the 32nd Hong Kong Film Awards in 2013. [13]

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  1. Clarence Tsui (26 December 2012). "China's Record-Breaking 'Lost in Thailand' Prepares to Sink 'Titanic'". The Hollywood Reporter . Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  2. Karen Chu (17 June 2012). "Feng Xiaogang Unveils Epic 'Remembering 1942' at the Shanghai Film Festival". The Hollywood Reporter . Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  3. "Feng Xiaogang's Back to 1942 premiered at Rome Film Festival". Asia Pacific Arts. 14 November 2012. Archived from the original on 26 August 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  4. "China Sends 'Back to 1942′ on Oscar Trail". Variety. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
  5. (in Chinese) 《一九四二》苏有朋戏份全删 (Alec Su's scenes in Back to 1942 were deleted) Archived 2014-03-20 at the Wayback Machine
  6. "Back to 1942 (2012)". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  7. "Back to 1942". Metacritic . Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  8. Brooks, Xan (11 November 2012). "Back to 1942 – review". The Guardian . Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  9. Fainaru, Dan (12 November 2012). "Back To 1942". Screen Daily . Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  10. Vimercati, Giovanni (6 December 2012). "'Back to 1942' portrays famine with a lavish budget". Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  11. Eagan, Daniel (30 November 2012). "Film Review: Back to 1942". Film Journal . Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  12. "Feng Xiaogang's '1942' wins 2 awards in Rome". 20 November 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  13. "32nd Hong Kong Film Awards 2013". HK Neo Reviews. Retrieved 14 April 2013.