WAR IN CHINA (1930-1945)
If the wars taking place in China over this period and generally not well known, even less well known are the films they inspired. This spotlight focusses on three specific wars: the Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War and the Second World War. The Civil War, taking place between 1927 and 1949 (with a respite between 1940 and 1945), was fought between the Kuomintang Nationalist Party led by Chiang Kai-Check and the Communist Party. It forms the backdrop to a film by Franck Capra, better known for his Utopian, political and social comedies (Mr Deeds Goes To Town, Mr Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life to name a few) than for his historical works. Starring the dazzling Barbara Stanwyck, The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932) is an exuberant Hollywood melodrama whose exploration of interracial love exhibits a frankness rare of its time. History is portrayed, if not completely accurately, at least in a manner that lends itself to cinema. Conversely, Chinese films City of Life and Death (2010) directed by Chuan Lu and Red Sorghum (1987) by Zhang Yimou are truer to reality and artistically less ambitious.
After invading Manchuria in 1931, the Japanese launched fresh attacks against China from 1937 onwards, marking the beginning of a war that would merge into the Second World War. The work of Chinese filmmaker Chuan Lu, impressive in its production and painstaking photography, provides a sorrowful portrayal of the Nankin massacre with an attention to detail and historical accuracy for which he was taken to task in his own country. Red Sorghum starring the filmmaker’s then wife Gong Li is the glorious portrayal of a resistance fighter during the Japanese invasion.
Spielberg concludes this harrowing period in China’s history with Empire of the Sun, an ambitious docudrama portraying a child (the young Christian Bale) who was separated from his parents (an issue close to the filmmaker’s heart) following the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in 1941. Notable cast members include John Malkovitch.
Whether American or Chinese, all of these films, diverse as they are in their technique and perspective, examine the haunting feeling of disbelief and injustice of those whose life is overturned when their country is suddenly invaded.
- Olivier Broche
THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN, Franck Capra (1993) – United States
EMPIRE OF THE SUN, Steven Spielberg (1988) United States
RED SORGHUM (HONG GAO LIANG RED SORGHUM), Zhang Yimou (1987) – China
CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH, Chan Wu (2010) – China