Actress Bess Armstrong once said of her co-star Tom Selleck whilst doing publicity for the picture: "He is real gorgeous, and he has some real power now, but he doesn't use that, or his charm, to exploit women. He genuinely seems to like women. For an actor, that's rare".
The picture was frequently perceived by the film-going public as being a knock-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) when in fact the film had been in development since the late 1970s.
Bess Armstrong once said of the very low temperatures during the movie's production shoot: "...I found Yugoslavia so cold they had to pin layers of thermal under my flapper dress in such a way it wouldn't show...it made it impossible for me to go to the bathroom without six helpers and two people on walkie-talkies relating my progress to the director, the cameraman and anybody who happened to be standing around!".
The make and models of the three bi-planes in the film were all vintage Belgian-designed French-built Stampe SV4C aircraft that were built after World War II though in the film the planes portray World War I era bi-planes.
The names of Patrick O'Malley (Tom Selleck)'s two bi-planes were "Dorothy" and "Lillian". These were named after two silent screen actresses, the sisters Dorothy Gish and Lillian Gish.
Actors Tom Selleck and Bess Armstrong had to overcome a significant height difference between them whilst blocking their scenes together. Armstrong is quoted in the January 1984 edition of Photoplay (UK) magazine as saying: "I spent five months in four-inch heels and standing on soap boxes just to reach him".
Reportedly, during the film's early development, source novelist Jon Cleary turned down the opportunity to work with legendary Hollywood director John Huston as Cleary did not want to live in Ireland for several months working on the screenplay with Huston.
This movie has been considered to have been part of a cycle of movies initiated by the box-office success of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Interestingly, Tom Selleck auditioned for the part of Indiana Jones and one can see Selleck's screen test on the DVD for that movie. Selleck was locked into a tight shooting schedule for Magnum, P.I. (1980) which is why Selleck was was unable to star in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). As that movie was a blockbuster hit, High Road to China (1983) is considered to have been offered to Selleck for compensatory reasons and also because Selleck had been the original choice to play the Indiana Jones character.
The machine guns on Dorothy and Lillian are Lewis Automatic Machine Rifles, chambered in .303 British caliber. Although the weapon was invented by an American Army captain, it was adopted by almost every other Allied army in WW1 prior to being adopted by the US in 1917. The guns were inexpensive and reliable, explaining why O'Malley could afford a pair.
In an oral history interview with Stephen Vagg, source novelist Jon Cleary has said of this filmed adaptation of his "High Road To China" novel that the film was one of the greatest disappointments of his career. Cleary felt that his novel could have been "one of the great adventure films" of all time.
There were two versions of Patrick O'Malley (Tom Selleck)'s two Stampe SV4C bi-planes. The doubles were used in scenes filmed in the air in long shots where actual flying was performed whilst the other set were used for filming the actors simulated as being in the air or on the ground where they would be featured in close-ups next to the actors.
The majority of the picture was shot in the former nation-state of Yugoslavia. Locations in the country portrayed several others including settings in Nepal, China, Turkey, India, and Afghanistan.
The aphorism said by Struts ('Jack Weston' qv)) was "The ox is slow but the earth is patient". Apparently, this saying is an ancient Buddhist proverb. It's meaning according to a blog on Yahoo Answers says: "The ox is universally a symbol of slow, plodding, working in the fields or rice paddies, dragging the plow. But it gets the job done. The earth is patient expresses the meaning that time does not matter to nature. On a symbolic level, the phrase refers to man, plowing the field with the ox. The earth (a symbolic representation of all nature) is not in a hurry. Seasons come and seasons go. All in its time...Persistence and patience are virtues to be admired".
Second assistant director Chris Carreras and lead actress Bess Armstrong met whilst working on the movie. The pair started a personal relationship which lead to a marriage before the two were divorced in 1984. Publicity for the picture reported how Armstrong fell in love during the production shoot, both on the set in real life with the 2nd A.D. and on the set in the movie's story, her Eve character falling in love with Tom Selleck's Patrick character.
Many WWI aircraft lacked an interrupter for the machine guns - this meant that they could not fire them within the arc of the propeller without shooting off the prop; thus the overhead mounting of the guns.
The film was made and released about six years after its source novel of the same name by Jon Cleary had been first published in 1977.
A large number of changes were made for the film from Jon Cleary's source "High Road To China" novel. One significant one was the excising of one of the two major pilot characters, the German, who assist the heiress to search for her missing father. However, there is still the appearance of a German bi-plane fighter pilot in the film who is an ace who does battle with Patrick O'Malley (Tom Selleck) up in the air.
One of few lead roles in a major motion-picture cinema movie for actress Bess Armstrong.
The yahoo reference for the "Ox is slow" quote also says it was MADE UP for the movie.
This picture was originally intended as being a vehicle for Roger Moore according to the May 1984 edition of Photoplay (UK). Wayne Warga's article "Author! Author!: Upwardly Prolific Down Under", published in the Los Angeles Times on 4th July 1980 (2nd ed), reported that during early development, Moore was slated to co-star with Jacqueline Bisset with the movie to be directed by John Huston.
World War I era replica Stampe bi-planes used in the movie were civilian aircraft manufactured without armament. The Lewis machine-guns on the bi-planes were positioned in much higher mounting positions than normal because of this.
This picture was part of a cycle of films in the Indiana Jones mold which were made after the box-office success of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Others included Sky Pirates (1986), King Solomon's Mines (1985), Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986), River of Death (1989) and High Road to China (1983).
Around the time the movie was made, Hollywood executives were perceiving actor Tom Selleck as a new Clark Gable, as mentioned in the May 1984 edition of 'Photoplay' (UK). According to the 'Guardian' newspaper, the film was "an attempt to revive the sort of comedy-adventure-romance in which Clark Gable and Jean Harlow would squabble furiously but you knew they were really in love". One of these pictures was entitled China Seas (1935), and like High Road to China (1983), also featured the word "China" in its title.
Sidney J. Furie replaced John Huston as director. Then Brian G. Hutton replaced Sidney J. Furie.
The November 21, 1979, issue of Variety announced that Roger Moore and Bo Derek would star in "High Road to China", with filming to start in May 1980. Delays pushed to filming to 1982, with Selleck and Armstrong in the lead roles.
The multi-national production crew of 231 personnel on location in Yugoslavia was comprised of one Frenchman, ten Americans, fifteen Italians, sixty British and 145 Yugoslavs.
According to the Internet Planes Database, the real and fake registration numbers of the three Stampe SV4C bi-planes were as follows: (1) German Aircraft, with fake registration D-88 (2) Registration G-AZGC, c/n 120. Fake registration G-EOHE (3) Registration G-AZGE, c/n 576. Fake registration G-EQHE.
One of two mid-1980s movies involving early 20th Century aviation. The other film was The Aviator (1985) which also featured bi-planes, was also set around the same period era of post-World War I and was also filmed in the same Yugoslavian [now Croatian] region around Rijeka.
One of two 1983 cinema movies starring Bess Armstrong which were first released in that year. The other picture was Jaws 3-D (1983).
At one point in the movie, Patrick O'Malley (Tom Selleck) refers to a "turkey shoot". A movie with that title had come out the previous year Turkey Shoot (1982) is an Australian movie whilst "High Road To China" is based on a novel by Jon Cleary, an Australian writer, but Cleary wrote the novel five years before that movie was first released.
About fifteen years after the film debuted, the title was used for an episode of The Drew Carey Show (1995) [See: The Drew Carey Show: The High Road to China (1998)].
The nickname of Eve Tozer (Bess Armstrong) was "Evie". The character is billed in the closing credits only as Eve, even though the character's father is billed as Bradley Tozer (Wilford Brimley).
The language spoken by the Himalayan villagers when the biplanes land midway through the movie is actually Burmese.
Critics and publicity writers frequently played on the film's "High Road To China" title by incorporating the witticism "The Low Road To..." in articles and reviews.
Actors Tom Selleck and Wilford Brimley both sport beards in this picture, unusual for the characters they most often play, whom have only mustaches.
Another connection that this movie has to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is that both films feature Wolf Kahler as a villain.