×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘In Harm’s Way’

Bille August's China-set WWII pic is a formulaic, well-intentioned misfire.

Director:
Bille August
With:
Emile Hirsch, Liu Yifei, Fangcong Li, Kevin Yan, Tsukagoshi Hirotaka, Yikuan Yan.

1 hour 37 minutes

Before arriving at its current title, Danish director Bille August’s English-Mandarin WWII film “In Harm’s Way” was released in Britain as “The Hidden Soldier,” and premiered at 2017’s Shanghai Intl. Film Festival as “The Chinese Widow.” Why the film would reject two prosaic yet descriptive English-language titles for an equally prosaic yet randomly applied one — not to mention one that was already used for a 1965 John Wayne film set in the exact same time period and war theater — is a mystery.

It’s a tiny thing in the long run, as plenty of international co-productions go through multiple titles, but then, “In Harm’s Way” is ultimately an inoffensive, well-intentioned film derailed by a dozen little head-scratching decisions. Though toplined by Emile Hirsch, the film is more likely to draw attention for the presence of Chinese costar Liu Yifei (credited here as Crystal Liu), who is poised to become far more familiar Stateside when she stars in Disney’s live-action “Mulan” in 2020, and catching an early glimpse of the star is really the only compelling reason to give this film a look.

At the heart of “In Harm’s Way” is a generally competent if thoroughly predictable heartstrings-tugger in which a wounded U.S. pilot named Jack (Hirsch) is nursed back to health by a widowed Chinese villager named Ying (Liu) while Japanese troops close in. Unfortunately, in order to get there, the film must first send Jack on a daring bombing run over Tokyo that ends with a crash landing in China’s Zhejiang province. These aerial combat sequences take place alternately in washed-out tones with truly horrid vfx, then later in near darkness. The decision to begin the film with such clumsy and credulity-straining scenes is baffling, because the precise specifics of Jack’s mission bear little relevance to the rest of the story, and surely a director as experienced as August could have devised a way to elide the aerial action setpieces that he lacked the resources to believably stage.

The film is on steadier ground, both narratively and aesthetically, when it returns to earth, with d.p. Filip Zumbrunn opting for more naturalistic tones to depict the lush, idyllic village where Ying crosses paths with the marooned pilot. A war widow, Ying lives in the outskirts of town with her sassy daughter Nunu (Fangcong Li), raising silkworms to support her family. When she and Nunu discover Jack hanging from the trees by his parachute, his leg badly wounded, they first stash him in a cave, then move him to a hidden basement beneath Ying’s house.

Bit by bit, Ying and Jack start to find ways to communicate – though both spend entirely too long simply yelling at each other in languages the other clearly doesn’t understand – and it will come as little surprise that some (very chaste) romantic stirrings begin to percolate. Nunu is far more wary of the smelly, poorly groomed interloper crashing in the basement, however, and Ying worries that her daughter might somehow betray his presence to rest of the village. There is, after all, what appears to be an entire Japanese battalion camped out within shouting distance of their house, led by the sadistic captain Shimamoto (a cartoonishly bug-eyed, mustache-twirling Tsukagoshi Hirotaka) who seems to have eyes for Ying.

The film is clearly Liu’s to carry, and she does so as well as circumstances allow, with Hirsch playing Jack as a rather undistinguished amalgam of G.I. clichés. Neither are particularly well-served by the film’s herky-jerky editing, however, nor the pileup of bookends (a debriefing in a military hospital, an ode to the heroism of Chinese resistance fighters) which start to crowd out the simple, agreeable story that should be its center. In the end, “In Harm’s Way” struggles to please so many theoretical audiences that it winds up feeling like a film for no one at all.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'In Harm's Way'

Reviewed at Asian World Film Festival, Los Angeles, Nov. 1, 2018. Running time: 97 MIN.

Production: A Shout! Factory release. Producer: Peng Sun.

Crew: Director: Bille August. Screenplay: Greg Latter. Camera (color): Filip Zumbrunn. Editor: Gerd Tjur. Music: Annette Focks.

With: Emile Hirsch, Liu Yifei, Fangcong Li, Kevin Yan, Tsukagoshi Hirotaka, Yikuan Yan.

More Film

  • Isabelle HuppertIsabelle Huppert Life Achievement Award,

    The Arcs Festival Taps Isabelle Huppert to Head The Talent Village For Young Helmers

    Guillaume Nicloux, the French director of “Valley of Love,” is set to preside over the jury of the Arcs Film Festival, while the iconic French actress Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) will be the patron of the second edition of the Talent Village. Created last year, the Talent Village is a development workshop and platform for emerging [...]

  • Isaac Perlmutter Disney Marvel

    Does Kevin Feige's Marvel Promotion Mean Ike Perlmutter's Endgame?

    Last week’s move giving Kevin Feige charge of Marvel’s television, animation and print editorial operations should come as no surprise. As the architect of the company’s enormous film success, Feige arguably has the most enviable track record of any contemporary entertainment executive. Extending his creative control over more of the Marvel universe seems like a [...]

  • Santa Barbara

    Anais Pareto Onghena Brings ‘Santa Barbara’ WIP to Impulso Morelia

    Having impressed at the Morelia Intl. Film Festival in the past with her short films, Spanish born, Mexican trained filmmaker Anaïs Pareto Onghena returns to the Michoacán capital with her latest feature “Santa Bárbara,” participating in the Impulso Morelia works in progress sidebar. Bárbara, a Bolivian woman living in Barcelona for more than a decade, [...]

  • Anna Movie

    EuropaCorp's U.S. Arm Gets Six-Month Debt Waiver From Paris Court

    EuropaCorp Films USA, the U.S. arm of Luc Besson’s Paris-based company, has been granted a six-month debt waiver from a French commercial court. Parent company EuropaCorp has already been on a six-month debt waiver since May, and the protection is supposed to come to an end in late November. A source close to the company [...]

  • Charles Tesson, Katrin Pors and John

    Morelia, Locarno Festivals Host Fifth Academy for Young Professionals

    Mexico’s Morelia Intl. Film Festival (FICM) and Locarno Academy are hosting the fifth edition of their joint academy for young professionals at this year’s festival, supported by the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE) and the Ibermedia program. The Morelia/Imcine-Locarno Intl. Industry Academy – it’s official name . counts as one of a series of Academies hosted [...]

  • THE IRISHMAN (2019)Ray Ramano (Bill Bufalino

    Middle East Premiere of Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman' to Open Cairo Film Festival

    The Middle East premiere of Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” will open the Cairo Film Festival, which has assembled a rich lineup of international and Arabic titles for its 41st edition. “The Irishman” will screen in the Egyptian capital Nov. 20 prior to being dropped globally by Netflix onto its service Nov. 27. Scorsese’s mob epic [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content