Storm Over the Yangtze River (1969)

A somewhat convoluted but still intriguing Chinese spy mystery set during WWII as agents and double agents conspire to accelerate or derail Japanese progress in the war.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,616

Dir. Li Han-Hsiang
1969 | Taiwan | Drama/Thriller/War | 111 min | 2.35:1 | Mandarin
PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language and violence

Cast: Li Li-Hua, Ko Chun-Hsiung, Ou Wei
Plot: A strong and charming Chinese agent of an intelligence unit engages in a risky mission to save her unit chief-lover, who is regarded as a traitor during WWII.
Awards: Won 3 Golden Horses – Best Leading Actor, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actor
Distributor: Taiwan Film & Audiovisual Institute

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Spies & Traitors
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Oldham Theatre – Singapore Chinese Film Festival
Spoilers: No

My second Li Han-Hsiang film after the middling Hsi Shih: Beauty of Beauties (1965), Storm Over the Yangtze River is a more interesting film, set in the context of Japan’s invasion of China in WWII. 

A decidedly leaner film that operates largely as a spy thriller, Li’s rarely-seen work is not so much about uncovering any kind of truth as it is about allowing a momentum of lies and deceptions to flow. 

Here, Chinese spies act as agents (or double agents), working closely with the Japanese and Chinese to gather enough intelligence to make sense of the enemy’s movement and war strategy, well whoever the ‘enemy’ is. 

“You traitor, have a heart.”

We never know who’s on which side, and because of this, Storm Over the Yangtze River can sometimes feel convoluted.  However, its convolutions are more intriguing than outright confusing as Li takes us on an adventure into mysterious towns, secret hideouts and intelligence HQs. 

Occasionally accompanied by black-and-white newsreel footage of the war, the film explodes into all-out war action in its final act, which is a pleasant detour considering much of what came before is more of a cat-and-mouse game of one-upmanship. 

The punishment for treason is almost always the death penalty, so in this perilous ‘game’, all kinds of lives are at stake, not least the spies who must navigate metaphorical stormy rivers while protecting not only their identity but the identities of others, even if everyone seems fishy with their shifty eyes and euphemistic words. 

Worth a look if you are into wartime espionage thrillers. 

Grade: B+


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