Director Feng Xiaogang ("The Banquet") brings this story of a military unit that refused to retreat, eventually paying with their lives; and their captain's ensuing struggle to get them officially listed as K.I.A. rather than M.I.A.
Overview: War feasts upon death. Its greedy appetite carries away many a life on the battlefield, and soldiers must be ready to die at any time. Yet all these sacrifices can be given meaning and reason with honor. A weathered witness of war's insatiable appetite, Guzidi, captain of the Ninth Company, will struggle his entire life to return honor to his 46 men and their self-sacrifice.
1948 witnessed the launching of the Hualhai Campaign during the Chinese Civil War. In one of Chinese history's deadliest battles, thousands from the People's Liberation Army and the KMT Army fell in the battle that took place between Xuzhou and Bengdu.
It was amid this bloody fight that Captain Guzidi led the Ninth Company infantry unit on a sniper mission. His orders were to fight the KMT army until the retreat assembly call was sounded. Yet, after many long hours of painstaking resistance, Guzidi watched powerless as the ammunition ran out and the scant ranks of the Ninth Company grew sparser still. The men were falling one by one.
On the brink of death, Lieutenant Jiao Dapeng, Guzidi's best partner, announced that he heard the call and asked Guzidi to retreat with the remaining soldiers. The dying man's words spread doubt within the remainder of the company, but Guzidi insisted that the bugle had not sounded and that they were to continue fighting at all costs.
Not until later did Guzidi realize that all the neighboring troops had already left the field, and that his entire company had maybe died in vain because of his stubborn obedience. Blinded by anger and guilt, Guzidi marched straight into the enemy's trench. But his life was spared, and he had no choice but to shoulder the gargantuan weight of guilt and mystery that would burden the remainder of his life.
A few days later, Guzidi woke up in a hospital. While among the KMT ranks, he had been wounded and captured by the PLA. He had lost his identity, and quickly learnt that without a survivor to vouch for them, the 46 men who had bravely sacrificed their lives under him had simply gone "missing". Guzidi joined the infantry of the Liberation Army and painstakingly climbed up the lower rings of the military ladder. Determined to prove the glorious death of his 46 men, Guzidi embarked on a journey in search of those who held the key to the mystery of the bugle call.
Guzidi was not alone in his cursed adventure. Sun Guigin, the wife of Guzidi fellow soldier, Wang Jincun, believed in the death of her husband only upon hearing it from Guzidi. The two of them set out together on their quest for honor.
Finally, after fighting through a myriad of perils and lost ways, Guzidi returned to the old coal mine where the deadly battle took place. He was still alone in believing what happened here. After silently staring at the huge mine where his men shed their blood, Guzidi began hungrily digging, knowing that the bodies of his 46 honorable men still lay underneath...