Oh yeah, it’s time for some highly watchable Chinese propaganda! If you didn’t immediately cheer with delight, you may want to go read something else, because highly watchable propaganda is exactly what Operation Red Sea is, and while it’s propaganda…it’s also pretty awesome.
The film starts with an introduction of the majority of your main characters as they take part in an anti-piracy operation to recover a hijacked Chinese cargo ship. This is a naval movie, but it primarily focuses on a special forces group called Jiaolong. The unit deploys into three groups along with a helicopter-bound sniper team and naval warship coverage. Despite some heavy firepower and a literal one-eyed pirate nearly escaping, the Jiaolong save the day but take one casualty from a lucky round that damages the sniper’s spine and gives his spotter a slight case of PTSD. The team gets a replacement soon enough, but it still sucks.
That’s when things to go hell in a handbasket in Yemen, or as they’re calling it, Yewaire. With Chinese citizens and diplomatic personnel trapped in a city while trying to escape, the Jiaolong coordinate with the local government as they fight off rebels that are never explicitly painted as Islamic terrorists but pretty much have all the traits of Islamic terrorists. The Jiaolong get permission to go in and rescue the trapped Chinese nationals, dealing with car bombs, RPGs, and whatever else the rebels have to throw at them as they crash their way through. Interestingly enough, they also point out that they’re doing all this with EU weapons, so…eh, whatever, they do some good gunplay and save the day.
But it’s not over! One Chinese national has been taken hostage as they raided an energy company to capture the unscrupulous CEO who just so happens to have plans and material to make dirty bombs! A Chinese national journalist who works in the area tries to help out, but oh shit, ambush in the desert! There’s now a sniper fight, unexploded ordinance in a bus full of soon-to-be-dead refugees, and some surprising fire power coming out of nowhere to make Jiaolong work for it. While they stay alive, they unfortunately have to deal with the toll of civilian loss and nearly getting killed themselves. But they do locate the compound where the hostages are located.
And then comes the big compound fight, as they sneak into place in disguise, and then a flat tire completely ruins their plans, and it all goes to shit. More sniper fighting, a junkyard gets blown up, some guys commandeer a tank to have a big armor rumble in the desert, and sadly half the unit is killed or wounded…but considering the 8 Jiaolong went up against about 150 and still managed to rescue their primary target do whatever else they could until literally running out of ammo and having to go knives-out…yeah, seems like a win. Not an easy win, but the mission was a success.
And we’re still not done! The remains of the team, wounded, low on ammo, and nearly at their breaking point have to come to a decision regarding whether they stop the terrorists from using the plans and material to make a dirty bomb. The answer: fuck yeah! Now we go to a secret abandoned airfield, where the spotter proves he’d make a pretty good sniper, and the terrorist leader offs himself in the name of the bigger terrorist ideals. At the end of the day, the team is successful in saving quite possibly the whole world, but they take a moment to honor their fallen comrades as they perform a ceremony on their modern Chinese warship.
And then we get footage of a Chinese armada demanding some foreign navy to get out of their territorial waters, which pretty much sums up the point of the movie, “Don’t fuck with our navy.” You gotta end on a propagandist high note, baby.
I don’t fault the Chinese film industry for making a movie like this at all. If you’re curious about how much of it is propaganda, well, put it like this: it was shown for the 90th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. It’s also praised as China’s first “modern naval” film. That said, it’s not like we didn’t do this kind of thing with movies like Delta Force. The difference here is that you also get a modern war film with some impressive action set pieces. And it’s fight after fight after fight. Is it always great? No; besides blatant propaganda you also get some lines in English that are horribly stilted. Like painfully stilted. But that’s a small element that is mostly over with in a couple of minutes. Now if you want to see some intense gun battles, liberal use of grenades, and a crazy tank fight, you got it.