Anthony's Film Review

Art of War
(TV Documentary, 2009)

Here is a magnificent documentary about one of the greatest military minds in history...

In or around 500 B.C., a Chinese military leader named Sun Tzu would leave his mark on the battlefield. Not just the ones he fought in, but also every future battlefield around the world involving any other participant. This is because Sun Tzu authored a classic 13-chapter military treatise, titled The Art of War. Military strategy guides have been written over time, but it is The Art of War that continues to reverberate through time and has done so for over 2,000 years. What's even more amazing is how Sun Tzu's influence extends beyond the battlefield into the realms of politics, sports, business, and essentially all aspects of life.

In 2009, the History Channel aired a 90-minute documentary about Sun Tzu and The Art of War. This was something I stumbled onto by chance, and because I had previously become fascinated with Sun Tzu, I knew I had to see what the History Channel's Art of War was all about. And I was not disappointed. Everything from beginning to end was engaging and fascinating. All I can think about was how this documentary is a example of what any great documentary, in my opinion, should look like. The best part is how it can capture the interest of those who are familiar with The Art of War and those who are learning about it for the first time.

Overall, the documentary tells four different stories. One is about Sun Tzu, who is asked by King Helu of the Chinese state of Wu to lead an army against an invasion by Nang Wa from the neighboring state of Chu. This tale is not told continuously but rather broken up into segments. In between are three other historical accounts presented in an uninterrupted fashion: the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, the Normandy Invasion during World War II, and the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Each of these stories seems to tell something unique.

That's because these stories illustrate examples of Sun Tzu's key principles. For instance, Sun Tzu said, "All warfare is deception." This applies when the Allied forces launched a campaign to trick the Nazis about their plan of attack. Also, Sun Tzu said, "Make your plans as dark as night, then strike like a thunderbolt." North Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap definitely took this to heart when he surprised the American army with numerous attacks in a single day. And Sun Tzu said, "When the enemy occupies high ground, do not confront him. If he attacks downhill, do not oppose him." This rings true when General Robert E. Lee's Confederate soldiers find themselves against the strategic advantage of the Union army. There are many great words of wisdom from Sun Tzu, and all of them contribute to the importance of the book's first line: "War is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, survival or ruin."

Besides the content, the documentary's style of presentation deserves high marks. It uses a variety of engaging elements, including realistic dramatizations, historical footage, an animation of a bamboo book page to present Sun Tzu's lessons, and insights from war college professors and other military strategy experts. The documentary is also great because one moment leads into the next in a smooth, seamless presentation. This is why, like I said, the film is a treat for everyone, whether or not they have read Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

It is true that there is some debate about Sun Tzu, about whether he really wrote The Art of War entirely by himself and even about whether The Art of War is simply common sense. Regardless of what everyone settles on, nobody can deny Sun Tzu's legacy and his impact on the ways people handle conflict, military or otherwise. After all, Sun Tzu said, "Know your enemy and know yourself, and in 100 battles, you will never be in peril." It's a worthwhile lesson, just like the other lines in The Art of War. And this well-made documentary film, along with a copy of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, is a valuable addition to anyone's personal library of great works.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Art of War, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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