#NativeNerd review: Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ with Chadwick Boseman and ‘The Eight Hundred’

Vincent Schilling

Two great war movies filled with historical accuracies as well as teachings

The film industry is still reeling from the COVID pandemic and my reviews have shown it. But faced with consistent alternatives garnered the possibility of looking at movies I might not otherwise watch.

This is more so the case with “The Eight Hundred” an incredible film based on a group of 800 soldiers who held the Japanese army at bay while they were taking a defensive position in a warehouse.

Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” was more on my radar after the untimely passing of the spectacular actor Chadwick Boseman, whom I am sure most of you know played Black Panther in the Marvel movie of the same name.

(See related: Wakanda Forever King: You will never be forgotten, A #NativeNerd tribute to Chadwick Boseman)

That said, here are my reviews.

My #NativeNerd scoring system

When reviewing movies, I employ the decimal system to a tenth of a point. So instead of 7 stars, I might give a 7.4 out of ten. Some movies aren’t an eight but deserve a little more than a seven.

The Eight Hundred

9.0 out of 10

My quick quote: “An excellent film filled with real emotion, real bravery and real reactions that showcases the complexities of men faced with near-certain death”

The Eight Hundred Poster

Synopsis: In 1937 a group of Chinese soldiers and draft dodgers put up a four-day defense of a Shanghai warehouse complex just as Japanese forces are overwhelming China.

What an incredible film. Too often I wished I did not have to read the captions as I don’t speak Chinese, but I am a fan of foreign films and this was one of the best.

I struggled a bit to get the complexities of detail at the start, as I wasn’t really sure who was on what side and which soldier was supposed to be going where. This is the essence of war, however, so it was easy to dismiss this subtlety and venture forward with the film.

“The Eight Hundred,” directed by Guan Hu, was a mesmerizing and complex film filled with so much, you definitely have to set aside another block of time to watch it again. Believe me, I will.

The story takes place most of the time in a war-beaten warehouse filled with dedicated soldiers and unwitting stragglers who were swept up in the conflict between China and Japan. Though a several-day bloody battle takes place in the warehouse, just across the river is a city filled with civilians, who literally eat their dinners from cafe tables and watch.

The contrast is more than compelling.

What stuck with me most were the complexity and depths of emotion experienced by the men. They cried, admitted they felt like cowards or expressed discontent at others who dared blink in the midst of life-threatening danger.

Over and over again the men discuss their desire to fight, their desire to run away, and not face being killed in battle. I felt as though I was joining them in tier emotional and mental struggles. I was along for the ride.

The contrast between a war-torn warehouse and the beautiful and bright colors of a city across the waterway and a mere few hundred feet away was profoundly effective. The special effects were absolutely incredible as was the cinematography.

But most powerful of all is the true history of the story, soldiers who literally made the decision to purposely give their lives for the benefit of others, I was moved to reflect on their decisions for days after I saw the film. 

So oftentimes, films fade right after watching them, but this one continued to resonate with me, and I appreciate that so much. Hats off to the filmmaking production team and actors who delivered such a great film.

The movie has not gone unnoticed and has raked in over $330 million dollars in China. It is now available in the United States. 

I recommend it highly.

Da 5 Bloods

9.2 out of 10

My quick quote: “Spike Lee delivers not only an exceptional film with the incredible Chadwick Boseman and others, but he throws some decolonization into the mix.”

Da 5 Bloods

Synopsis: From Academy Award® Winner Spike Lee comes a New Joint: the story of four African-American Vets — Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) — who return to Vietnam. Searching for the remains of their fallen Squad Leader (Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure, our heroes, joined by Paul's concerned son (Jonathan Majors), battle forces of Man and Nature — while confronted by the lasting ravages of The Immorality of The Vietnam War.

Great, great, great film with a round of applause to Spike Lee for an exceptional finished product with great actors, of course, in this case, Chadwick Boseman, who I miss dearly.

“Da 5 Bloods” follows the story of four Vietnam veterans who travel back to Vietnam in a quest to bring their friend, as well as a considerable amount of treasure, back with them.

Immediately into the film, Spike Lee uses speeches and imagery to showcase the world of Black activists and changemakers that led a voice in the same era's anti-war movement.

What really stood out for me was the time Lee took to showcase these same Black world-changers such as the first Black medal of honor recipient in Vietnam, and other world-changers such as a Black Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Crispus Attucks and more. It was not just an amazing film, it was an honorable tribute.

Lee also called out out “founding fathers” citing George Washington as the owner of over a hundred slaves and presidents who wanted nothing to do with the Vietnam War, in which — at the time — the Black population in the United States was only 11 percent, yet the involvement of Black Soldiers in Vietnam was 32 percent of the troops in the war.

I have only mild criticism in that a few of the moments were a bit formulaic and because of that, I found myself able to guess the outcome of a few situations. Again, it is a minor judgment toward a film that truly has inspired my own creative venturings.

As a Native American man, as a Mohawk man, I have for too long seen the films on television and in movies filled with horrendous versions of Native culture taught to the masses as truth.

Like it or not films are the teachers of our world. Films teach our children, films teach our teachers. Films are facts as far as the movie-watching public is concerned.

So how can we undo history? So how can we unteach? By following Spike Lee's example. But using the same media to unteach what was previously incorrectly taught.

Thank you for inspiring me Spike, I appreciate what you did. I will do the same whenever possible. 

The movie made a fantastic impression on me, and I am sure it will on you as well.

“Da 5 Bloods” is now out on Netflix. 

Native Nerd Phone

Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com he is also the opinions’ editor, opinion@indiancountrytoday.com.


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