One of Hao Wu's Mainland-based co-directors preferred to remain anonymous in the credits of their film documenting Wuhan during the lockdown. That is totally understandable, given how tightly the CCP regime has controlled information regarding the outbreak. However, there is one name conspicuously missing from the film: Dr. Li Wenliang, the “whistleblower” doctor who was arrested and forced to recant his warnings of a coronavirus outbreak, before eventually succumbing to Covid-19 himself. His full story needs to be told, but Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and anonymous focus solely on the anguish that resulted inside four overwhelmed Wuhan hospitals, struggling to keep up with pandemic in 76 Days, which releases virtually this Friday.
There is no background or context provided during 76 Days, just an immersive examination of the triage, in the style of a Wiseman doc, but with more urgency. It is hard to say whether some of the action was recorded in Dr. Li’s Wuhan Central Hospital, now also known as “Whistleblower Hospital,” because Wu did his best to obscure details that could identify people and places during the editing. His efforts were aided by the head-to-toe PPE-gear that almost entirely renders the medical personnel anonymous. Of course, this also presents a “dramatic” challenge, but the catastrophic nature of the situation still comes through, in scene after scene.
Perhaps the most poignant sequences involve a young couple, who are desperate to finally see their infant daughter, who was born while her pregnant mother was in treatment for Covid. Nicknamed “Little Penguin” by the hospital staff, the unnamed baby has yet to be held by her parent’ arms, but at least they are all expected to survive. The prognosis is not so good for other patients.
Indeed, opens with the chilling scene of a hospital employee wailing for deceased father, whom she is not allowed to see, due to safety protocols. In shaping his codirectors’ footage, Wu largely avoids overtly political references. However, there is a weird incident involving a distressed elderly patient, whose son on a cell phone basically tells him to suck it up and start acting like a Party member.
inspires a mixed response. The medical professionals who basically kept Wuhan from completely collapsing through their heroic efforts deserve to have their personal stories told in films like this. Yet, there is so much more to the macro-story. There was the silencing of Dr. Li and other whistleblowers, false denials, as well as the deliberate destruction of samples identified in labs (see the timeline nicely laid out on Axios). This also needs to be thoroughly detailed on film, because state backed filmmakers will surely try to rewrite history with a heroic propaganda film, in much the same way they tried to rewrite the history of the Xingang oil disaster in The Bravest. Of course, if Wu had included that kind of wider subject matter, it would have most likely put his Wuhan collaborators in very real jeopardy.
The personal tragedy Wu, Chen, and Anonymous capture is undeniably moving, but it is arguably even more important to explain how it happened and why it didn’t have to. Xi and the CCP failed Wuhan and now the entire world is paying a heavy price. Take the cases depicted in 76 Days and then multiple by 5 or 6 million (to reach 62.6 million cases and 1.46 million deaths). Recommended as an admirable example of guerilla documentary filmmaking in China (but not the definitive documentary we still need), 76 Days opens virtually this Friday (12/4).