Review: ‘Empire of the Sun’

Story of an 11-year-old boy stranded in Japanese-occupied China during World War II is based on J.G. Ballard's autobiographical 1984 novel which marked the first non-science-fiction book by author. Both it and the film clearly are the work of sci-fi artists channelling their imaginations into a more traditional framework.

Story of an 11-year-old boy stranded in Japanese-occupied China during World War II is based on J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical 1984 novel which marked the first non-science-fiction book by author. Both it and the film clearly are the work of sci-fi artists channelling their imaginations into a more traditional framework.

Leading the first troupe of Hollywood studio filmmakers ever into Shanghai, Steven Spielberg turns the grey metropolis into a sensational film set as he delineates the edginess and growing chaos leading up to Japan’s entry into the city just after Pearl Harbor.

Jim (Christian Bale) is in every way a proper upper-class English lad but for the fact he has never seen England. Separated from his parents during the spectacularly staged evacuation of Shanghai, Jim hooks up with a pair of Amerian scavengers, with whom in due course he is rounded up and sent to a prison camp for the rest of the war.

It is there that Jim flourishes, expending his boundless energy on creative projects and pastimes that finally land him a privileged place among the entrepreneurially minded Americans.

John Malkovich’s Basie, an opportunistic King Rat type, keeps threatening to become a fully developed character but never does. Other characters are complete blanks, which severely limits the emotional reverberation of the piece. No special use is made of the talents of Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers, Joe Pantoliano and the others, so it is up to young English thesp Bale to engage the viewer’s interest, which he does superbly.

1987: Nominations: Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Art Direction, Editing, Original Score, Sound

Empire of the Sun

Production

Amblin/Warner. Director Steven Spielberg; Producer Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall; Screenplay Tom Stoppard; Camera Allen Daviau; Editor Michael Kahn; Music John Williams; Art Director Norman Reynolds

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1987. Running time: 152 MIN.

With

Christian Bale John Malkovich Miranda Richardson Nigel Havers Joe Pantoliano Leslie Phillips

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