Empire of the Sun Reviews
"Steven Spielberg's acclaimed account of an English boy's life in a WWII internment camp in Japanese-occupied China.
Christian Bale, John Malkovich"
American, capitalism uncaged, for whom the war is primarily an opportunity for gain. Richardson is a British socialite, forced against her will to look at real life and none too happy about it. And Bale, the star, is a Brit of privilege too, but barely manages to make do. This piece had two things against it as I went in, Spielberg and Bale, but both rise above their comfort zones to deliver an exceptional story.
A harrowing coming of age tale of life during World War 2 occupation and all the nightmares that entails. If you haven't seen it, I do recommend it.
Like the author J. G. Ballard's own experiences, Jim, or James Graham (Christian Bale's first major role that brought him into the limelight), lives in the untouched International Settlement in Shanghai before Japan invaded it, while his well-to-do parents keep him oblivious to the intense nature of the war raging outside the metal barricades of the settlement. When the Japanese do finally march in, Jim and his parents are separated by the great throngs of chaotic crowds. Jim now has to survive on his own until he runs into a strange, snobbish American, Basie, whom he persuades to protect him. The war moves on, and our characters are moved to the Soochow camp, but we don't care as it makes no difference to unenlightened Jim.
Spielberg definitely succeeds in creating movies on World War II, and like any other of them, the oppressors bring down numerous beatings, though Spielberg curbed it to a PG rating, and mild language is spit out in intense, emotional scenes. Though Jim loudly proclaims his atheistic faith, his beliefs are radically different. He talks about God and what he does, possibly a touch in order to appeal to Christian viewers.
Throughout the movie, the tween-aged Jim often cries "I surrender" to anyone in a uniform, hoping to gain access to his parents or a guardian through that act. But I doubt little Jim understands that phrase, because, instead of a weak, fainthearted boy, we see one with a strong constitution and standing up to oppressors and respecting all (even the dead). Even in conditions so arduous and severe, his manners and respect last through the entire war, recognized by us and an admiring Basie who says, "You've got nice manners. I appreciate that."
Spielberg's powerful use of the camera and Bale's show-stopping performance emphasizes what man would do in harsh and demanding environments. On the other hand, Jim, scraping out a living through a complex network of theft and trade, lives unknowing to the motives behind the cruelties of the camp in his high world of airplanes. We follow Jim and his experiences like a close friend, but like everyone else, we can't convince him of the real dangers and truths he is ignorant of. Unlike Jurassic Park, Spielberg enhances the original material, and touches it with emotion, friendships and an inspirational story.