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Jiang hopes that the film illuminates this common human psychological trait of blaming others for disaster that goes beyond Chineseness.

In a small village named Rack-Armor Terrace in Hebei , at the foot of the Great Wall of China , a local peasant called Ma Dasan played by Jiang Wen is caught by surprise when a man bursts into his home one night and deposits two men in gunnysacks, instructing him at gunpoint to keep them captive but alive for the next few days and interrogate them.

The man, identified only as "Me", leaves before Ma can catch a glimpse of him. Ma hurriedly enlists the help of his fellow villagers.

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Fearing both the mysterious "Me" and the Japanese, the village decides to follow the instructions from "Me" and detains the prisoners in Ma's cellar. Hanaya repeatedly attempts to provoke the peasants into killing him, but Dong, fearing for his own life, alters Hanaya's words in translation to make him appear conciliatory. The mystery man fails to return by the eve of Chinese New Year as promised. Six months later, the villagers finally run out of patience and resolve to kill the prisoners.

The task falls on Ma after a drawing of lots. Not daring to commit murder, Ma instead hides the prisoners in a watchtower along the Great Wall, where he visits them regularly to bring them food and water.

The doorsteps to heaven - icebeards Wild Flower Retreat

However, an unsuccessful escape attempt by the prisoners reveals Ma's secret to the rest of the village. A bitter argument ensues and the village decides to hire an assassin from town to carry out the deed. He is told that being beheaded by Liu feels like a passing breeze, and that the severed head will roll nine times on the ground, blink three times, and smile in a gesture of gratitude for such a painless death. However, Liu fails to harm either prisoner with one stroke.

Claiming that it is the will of Heaven, Liu leaves with the prisoners uninjured. By this time, however, Hanaya has lost all his defiance and is filled only with gratitude towards the villagers. He promises to reward the village with two wagons of grain should he be released.

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The villagers agree and return the prisoners to the Japanese Army encampment in the nearby town. However, the Japanese Army has already made Hanaya a war hero, believing that he was killed in battle. Returning alive after being a prisoner shames the Army. The commander of the encampment, Captain Inokichi Sakatsuka Kenya Sawada , gives Hanaya a merciless beating but feels honor-bound to fulfill the agreement between the latter and the village. Captain Sakatsuka and his men bring a great bounty of food and wine to the village and hold a feast there that evening, as Ma goes off to fetch his lover Yu'er Jiang Hongbo from a neighboring village.

During the feast, Captain Sakatsuka demands to have the man who captured Hanaya.

On the Doorsteps of Heaven by James J. Giordano (2006, Paperback)

He also accuses Ma of sneaking off to fetch resistance fighters. Not given a satisfactory answer, he orders all villagers to be killed and the village to be burned. Ma and Yu'er return on a raft only to find the entire village in flames.

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Meanwhile, Hanaya is about to commit harakiri before being stopped by Captain Sakatsuka and informed that Japan has recently surrendered, and the war is over. After the Chinese National Revolutionary Army takes back the area, Dong is publicly executed for collaborating with the enemy. Ma, bent on revenge, disguises himself as a cigarette vendor and loiters outside the Japanese encampment, now converted into a POW camp.

When two Japanese soldiers come out to buy cigarettes, Ma hacks them with an axe and breaks into the camp, killing more POWs. He finds and pursues Hanaya, but is brought down by guards before he can kill the latter. Major Gao David Wu , commander of the Chinese Army contingent administering the town, condemns Ma's act as too despicable to deserve death by the hands of a Chinese soldier, and instead orders a Japanese POW to carry out the execution before a massive crowd.

Captain Sakatsuka hands a katana to Hanaya, who takes careful aim before delivering the fatal strike. As Ma's head falls to the ground, it rolls nine times, blinks three times, and smiles, just as 'One Strike' Liu's victims were supposed to have done. According to director Jiang Wen , Ma is initially very fearful but does not know the origins of his fear. The turning point comes when he sees his village in flames and his fellow villagers massacred. He then overcomes his own fear and begins longing for death.

In the final scene, Ma dies a satisfying death as he has fulfilled his desire. The film was inspired by and loosely based on a novella titled Survival by You Fengwei. However, the final screenplay was largely original, with only few similarities to You's novella. Director Jiang Wen and director of photography Gu Changwei made the choice of shooting the film in black and white in order to capture the details of the historical era depicted in the film. There were initial worries about the sales and distribution prospects for a black-and-white film, but the production eventually went ahead.

The Japanese cast members in the film, two of whom came to know Jiang while on exchange in the Central Academy of Drama in the s, initially expressed concerns with the Japanese war crimes depicted in the film. Jiang spent two weeks discussing the issue with them, and showed them documentaries about the war, including some made by Japanese filmmakers. According to Jiang, the Japanese cast members eventually came to trust him.

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