Chinese movies featuring Hollywood actors are still alive and kicking, as the upcoming wartime drama Unbreakable Spirit (大轰炸) demonstrates. In the film (formerly titled The Bombing) Bruce Willis plays a United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) officer named Jack Johnson. Alongside characters played by Chinese A-Listers like Liu Ye, Nicholas Tse, and Fan Bingbing, Johnson trains Chinese pilots to fend of Japanese bombers over the city of Chongqing. While Unbreakable Spirit started filming in 2015, it only just received a release date: August 17, 2018.
Unbreakable Spirit aims to dramatize Chinese resistance during the Bombing of Chongqing, which lasted from 1938-1943. Located deep inland, Chongqing served as China’s temporary capital from 1937-1946, as Japan captured many coastal cities including the formal capital Nanjing. Aiming to crush China’s government, Japan flew 268 raids over Chongqing. The raids killed over 10,000 civilians and destroyed much of the city center.
The legacy and trauma of these bombings remains even today. Chongqing’s still famous for its underground air raid shelters, some of which have been converted into living quarters and businesses. There’s even a recent Chinese movie called Chongqing Hot Pot whose plot relies on the remaining presence of those shelters and their access tunnels.
For Americans, Chongqing might be better known for hosting the Flying Tigers, American volunteer pilots who helped China fight Japan during WWII. There’s no word on whether Willis’ character in Unbreakable Spirit is a Flying Tiger himself.
If he turns out to be, it won’t be a surprise though. The Flying Tigers are one thing that China and America can still mutually admire, despite broader geopolitical tensions. Chongqing still hosts a Flying Tiger Museum, and even has a museum honoring US General Joseph Stilwell, who eventually led the US presence in China following Pearl Harbor.