The Opium War (film)

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The Opium War
The Opium War Poster.jpg
Film poster
Traditional 鴉片戰爭
Simplified 鸦片战争
Mandarin Yāpiàn Zhànzhēng
Directed by Xie Jin
Produced by Chen Zhigu
Written by Zhu Sujin
Ni Zhen
Zong Fuxian
Mai Tianshu
Starring Bao Guo'an
Lin Liankun
Sihung Lung
Bob Peck
Simon Williams
Shao Xin
Su Min
Gao Yuan
Music by Jin Fuzai
Huang Hanqi
Cinematography Hou Yong
Shang Yong
Edited by David Wu
Qian Lili
Zhang Longgen
Emei Film Studio
Xie Jin / Heng Tong Film & TV Co.
Distributed by Golden Harvest
Release dates
  • 1997 (1997)
Running time
150 minutes
Country China
Language Mandarin

The Opium War 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 Opium War between China in the waning days of the Qing dynasty and the British Empire, through the eyes of key figures such as the fiercely nationalistic Lin Zexu and the British naval diplomat Charles Elliot.

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 US$15 million, was the most expensive film produced in China.[3] It was released to coincide with the Hong Kong handover ceremony in July 1997.


  • Bao Guo'an as Lin Zexu
  • Lin Liankun as Qishan
  • Sihung Lung as He Jingrong
  • Shao Xin as He Shanzi
  • Su Min as Daoguang Emperor
  • Gao Yuan as Rong'er
  • Bob Peck as Denton (based on Lancelot Dent)
  • Simon Williams as Charles Elliot
  • Debra Beaumont as Queen Victoria
  • Emma Griffiths as Mary Denton
  • Philip Jackson as Captain White
  • Garrick Hagon as missionary Sidon Laughton
  • Robert Freeman as Hill
  • Ko Hsiang-ting as Yishan
  • Jiang Hua as Guan Tianpei
  • Zhou Chuanyi as Yiliang
  • Li Weixin as Deng Tingzhen
  • Li Shilong as Han Zhaoqing
  • Liu Zhongyuan as Lü Zifang
  • Shi Yang as Lin Sheng
  • Kong Xianzhu as He Rengui
  • Chang Xueren as San
  • Li Shaoxiong as Yao Huaixiang
  • Yang Heping as Qianzong
  • Wang Fen as Qiuping
  • Liang Yang as Baihe
  • He Qingqing as Lanrui
  • Gu Lan as official
  • Yang Zhaoquan as blind musician
  • Zhang Wanwen as brothel manager
  • Dominic Jephcott as British Member of Parliament
  • Jamie Wilson as artillery captain Paul Artuard
  • Nigel Davenport
  • Oliver Cotton


The film was shot in Hengdian World Studios, Zhejiang, a common filming site for historical films 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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