Empire of the Sun (1987)

PG   |    |  Drama, History, War

Empire of the Sun (1987) Poster

A young English boy struggles to survive under Japanese occupation during World War II.




  • Empire of the Sun (1987)
  • Christian Bale and John Malkovich in Empire of the Sun (1987)
  • Steven Spielberg and Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun (1987)
  • Christian Bale and Takatarô Kataoka in Empire of the Sun (1987)
  • Christian Bale and Ben Stiller in Empire of the Sun (1987)
  • Christian Bale and Nigel Havers in Empire of the Sun (1987)

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22 July 2004 | Theo Robertson
| A Movie Of Great Moments Without Being A Great Movie
From Spring Of 1940 to the Summer of 1941 Britain experienced " Its finest hour " where an island people found itself fighting alone against Nazi Germany and fascist Italy . We experienced Dunkirk , the blitz , the battle of Britain and 36,000 British and commonwealth troops held back a force of 400,000 Italian troops in North Africa . If Britain had accepted the Nazi peace deal on offer the history of the human race would have been entirely different and not in a good way either . Ironically after this zenith of British courage we went onto lose the peace which is something we've been resentful about ever since

I'm being neither nostalgic nor nostalgic when I point out the above . It's just in the early scenes of EMPIRE OF THE SUN the Brits in China are shown as being arrogant , ignorant phillistines who all live in nice big houses . Maybe this might have been true of those Brits living in ivory towers running the empire but it's an atypical view of the average Brit during the second world war . I might have let it pass but seeing as the director's Steven Spielberg who insists on always casting British actors to play Nazis in all his movies and who put the boot into Monty in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN I can't help thinking he's somewhat Anglophobic . Read my opening paragraph and you'll learn more about Britain in the second world war than you will from seeing this movie

There's other flaws in the screenplay ( Written by Tom Stoppard who's not an American by the way ) which people have noticed . It is rather disjointed and episodic . The audience is shown the events of the Japanese Imperial Army invading Shanghai in 1941 where all the Westerners are put into a holding camp then events jump forward almost FOUR years later where the prisoners are held in an internment camp . What ? Nothing of any interest has happened in four years ? Some critics have also mentioned the rather clichéd characters and I agree . The Brits are all rather stiff upper lipped types while the Yanks have a cheeky extrovert attitude with plenty of scams going on . Did the Americans have a monopoly on scams during the war ? I also have serious reservations on the way the Japanese are portrayed in this movie . When Alexander Solzhenitsyn said " The only difference between the Nazis and the communists is that the Nazis used gas " it's a statement that could have been used to describe the Japanese occupation forces of the 1930s and 40s , but here they're shown as noble warriors ( I don't dispute the raw courage of the Japanese of the time but there's nothing noble about mass murder ) who salute the young James . If the author of the book JG Ballard said it this scene happened then it happened but I do have many reservations about the Japanese portrayal

There are many positive aspects to EMPIRE OF THE SUN . Technically it's very good with some fine scenes like the above saluting scene and the mustang flying over the internment camp with the pilot waving to young James in slow motion and the scene where the young protagonist believes he can resurrect his dead friend but for me the best scene is where Basie is allowed onto a truck where he turns his back on James who is left behind in a heart wrenching moment . It's these moments that linger long in the memory and certainly make EMPIRE OF THE SUN a far better regarded film than it certainly deserves to be

It's also a film with a very good cast who rise above the material . It's surprising to think this now but when the movie was released in 1987 both Nigel Havers and Miranda Richardson where only known for their sit com roles. Richardson ( So awful in BLACKADDER 2 ) is very good here and went onto to become more or less Britain's best actress in the early 1990s and there's early screen appearances by Joe Panoliano , Ben Stiller ( Yes that one ) and Paul McGann . Despite playing an irritating character ( And characters don't come anymore irritating than a 14 year old boy with a bi-polar disorder ) Christian Bale is excellent and it's nice to know he still gets regular employment as an adult actor . The only disappointment is John Malkovich but I've never been a fan of his " Stoned Jack Nicolson " type of acting and like I said he does appear in the movie's best scene

EMPIRE OF THE SUN has it's moments but that's all they are - moments . They stay in the mind making you believe that it's a far better movie than it actually is . It's not by any stretch of the imagination a bad or even average film but it's not a masterpiece either . Perhaps the fact that it was nominated for several Oscars ( None of which were for best film or director ) but failed to win any shows up it's true worth

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