The Opium War (film)

The Opium War (鸦片战争) is a 1997 Chinese historical epic film directed by Xie Jin. The winner of the 1997 Golden Rooster and 1998 Hundred Flowers Awards for Best Picture, the film was screened in several international film festivals, notably Cannes and Montreal. The film tells the story of the First Opium War of 1839–1842, which was fought between the Qing Empire of China and the British Empire, from the perspectives of key figures such as the Chinese viceroy Lin Zexu and the British naval diplomat Charles Elliot.

The Opium War
The Opium War Poster.jpg
Japanese film poster
MandarinYāpiàn Zhànzhēng
Literallyopium war
Directed byXie Jin
Written byZhu Sujin
Ni Zhen
Zong Fuxian
Mai Tianshu
Produced byChen Zhigu
StarringBao Guo'an
Lin Liankun
Sihung Lung
Bob Peck
Simon Williams
Shao Hsin
Su Min
CinematographyHou Yong
Shang Yong
Edited byDavid Wu
Qian Lili
Zhang Longgen
Music byJin Fuzai
Huang Hanqi
Emei Film Studio
Xie Jin / Heng Tong Film & TV Co.
Distributed byGolden Harvest
Mandarin Films (International) Co. Ltd.
Release date
  • 1997 (1997)
Running time
150 minutes

Unlike many of its contemporaries, The Opium War was strongly supported by the state apparatus.[1] Despite its clear political message, many Western commentators found the treatment of the historical events to be generally even-handed.[2]

At the time of its release, The Opium War, with a budget of $15 million (USD), was the most expensive film produced in China.[3] It was released to coincide with the Hong Kong handover ceremony in July 1997.




The film was shot in the Hengdian World Studios in Zhejiang province, a common filming site for historical films which has been dubbed "Chinawood." In order to recreate the streets of 19th-century Guangzhou, nearly 120 construction teams from surrounding villages were assembled.[4] In contrast, nearly all post-production took place in Japan.[5]


Despite its clear political background (and its release on the eve of the return of Hong Kong to China), the film was generally well received by Western critics as a workable example of the big-budget historical film. Variety, in one review, begins with the fact that despite the film's "unashamedly political message," The Opium War was nevertheless "comparatively even-handed," while the film itself had excellent production values.[5] The Guardian recognised that the film, despite its official backing, "was relatively nuanced," and praised the performance of Bob Peck as the venal opium trader Denton.[6]

The film's domestic release was also positive, with The Opium War eventually winning the Golden Rooster for Best Film.


  1. ^ "Xie Jin Speaks Out". Retrieved 2007-12-11.
  2. ^ Elley, Derek (1997-06-08). "The Opium War". Variety. Retrieved 2007-12-12. Higgins, Andrew (1997-06-12). "China's Epic Exorcism". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-12-12.
  3. ^ Gee, Alison Dakota (1997-06-27). "Xie's Epic Victory, A historical spectacle surprises the cynics". AsiaWeek. Retrieved 2007-12-11.
  4. ^ Zhang Wenting. "Xu Wenrong and His "Chinawood"". China Today. Retrieved 2007-12-13.
  5. ^ a b Elley, Derek (1997-06-08). "The Opium War". Variety. Retrieved 2007-12-12.
  6. ^ Higgins, Andrew (1997-06-12). "China's Epic Exorcism". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-12-12.

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