I am currently tackling a film analysis project for a course that I am taking this semester, but I thought it would be nice to write a review about each of the three films from an enjoyment perspective, rather than the analytic perspective I have to use in the project. Empire of the Sun is the first of the three, a decent coming-of-age film about a British boy held prisoner by the Japanese during their occupation of Shanghai.
Slice of history. A lot of effort went into maintaining the time period depicted in the film, that of Shanghai in 1941. The use of period vehicles, sets, and even aircraft were all done in order to preserve this history. It was nice to see a movie try so hard to maintain its historical accuracy. The setting looked just like one would expect of 1941 Shanghai. The movie was shot on-location there after all.
Relatively unbiased perspective. Being an American-made film, I had expected a more negative depiction of the Japanese military, especially given the time period. However, I was surprised to see that such negativity was on the lighter side. Sure, the Japanese in the movie still did some pretty bad things, but the movie focused so much more on the main character that it never felt like I was watching a heavily biased depiction of the time period. There were even some lighthearted moments, like the main character’s interactions with a young Japanese pilot.
Lack of direction. At no point during the movie did it feel like there was a sense of direction. It did not seem to know what it wanted to convey, like there was no particular goal in mind. The events depicted just seemed all over the place, randomly spliced together to make a coherent story. Sure, it was interesting to see the main character’s growth, but for what reason exactly? There was no primary theme to back up the movie.
Annoying lead character. While Christian Bale’s portrayal of the boy in this story may be decent, that does not make the character himself any less annoying. In fact, one could say that Bale has done a perfect job portraying a young, privileged, but incredibly annoying British boy. Even so, it really put a damper on the experience. The boy’s speech throughout the movie, as well as his actions, just grow tiresome. There is a sequence in which the boy runs around the city of Shanghai shouting “I surrender” to the Japanese troops, who promptly laugh him off. It continues for almost ten whole minutes. This sequence, along with others throughout the film, could easily have been shortened. It is also difficult to understand why the boy behaves the way he does. One minute he is rooting for the Japanese, then the next he wishes he is an American. Perhaps this is why the film as a whole lacks direction, because the main character certainly does.
Despite the film’s lack of direction and the annoying lead character, it was still a decent watch. The story itself is fine and the soundtrack is okay, but what really sells the movie is how it manages its setting. I am a big fan of movies set during this time period and a lot of effort went into preserving the history here. Recommended for fans of the time period, but would not recommend otherwise.