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Overall, this is a solid if unspectacular wartime drama, with a message
that was important at the time. But Anna May Wong's performance lifts
it well above the norm for its genre, and although it seems likely that
she was cast primarily so as to lend her charm and her reputation to
the movie's message, the movie serves quite well as a showcase for her
own considerable abilities.
The story has Wong as the leader of a resistance group to the Japanese occupation of China, and while the film definitely has a low-budget look to it, the atmosphere is generally convincing. Mae Clarke does a good job and is rather appealing herself, as a cynical singer whose loyalties are obscure. As the Japanese general with whom Wong's character must match wits, Harold Huber is too obviously not Asian for the role to work completely, but he does do a solid job of portraying the general as greedy yet short-sighted, egotistical but foolish.
Wong gets plenty of good material to work with, and she does an excellent job with all of it. At times she must act as a meek subject of the occupiers, at other times a tough-minded leader in a desperate situation. Then, in the scenes when she tries to win the general's confidence, she is finally able to do justice to her beauty and her elegant reserve. She makes it very convincing to believe that she could captivate a man much tougher than General Kaimura. Finally, in the speech that drives home the movie's message, her voice works very well in delivering the message.
Anna May Wong is certainly better remembered for her roles in other, far more lavish productions than this. Without her, "Lady from Chungking" would a well-meaning but generally nondescript feature. But it's easily worth seeing for the opportunities that it gives her to provide an example of her wide range of abilities.
I saw this film at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens quite by accident; film screenings are included in the price of admission. (If you get the chance, be sure to visit the museum. It is a wonderful small museum.) My husband and I loved the film. While the picture quality and the sound were not great it was manageable. In the context of the time period, the story line is realistic and Wong was excellent in the title role. I will be sure to look for more films with her. If you get a chance to see this, it is definitely worthwhile. Another piece of history to fill in the gaps left out of the history books.
A group of Chinese farmers are being worked by the occupying Japanese army during World War II, while secretly working their underground movement to end the oppression. Kwan Mei, whose family was killed by the invaders, is questioned by the Japanese concerning the whereabouts of an American flier that was shot down. General Kaimura is taken by Kwan Mei's beauty and becomes his mistress, but she uses this to her advantage in order to obtain information vital to the Allied war effort. When she learns of a Japanese troop train that is to arrive, it is up to her to lead her fellow Chinese and allies to intercept it, overcoming the obstacles of the Japanese army and her fellow farmers who believe she betrayed them to the enemy. Very good propaganda film from PRC, which should have been done at another studio so its message of sacrifice and camaraderie would have been heard by more. Wong is simply terrific in her role as the clever Kwan Mei and her message at the end of the film captures the essence of every person oppressed by an evil captor. The scenes with Clarke, Donath, and the American fliers really take away from the main essence of the film and just seem to pad the running time. Worth a look. Rating, 7.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Produdcers Releasing Corportion comes to the rescue in this low, low-budget flag-waver from the mid war years. PRC films always have that filmed in a week for 50 bucks look for a reason. They were filmed in a week for 50 bucks! Having said that, every so often they knocked off a watchable cheapie. This "is", one of those watchable programmers. Anna May Wong plays the leader of the local Chinese guerrilla fighters taking on the Japanese. She dolls herself up and cuddles up to the Japanese garrison commander. She extracts all the info she needs before pulling out a pistol and dispatching the swine. There is secondary sub-plot with some downed Flying Tigers pilots. This film is no great masterpiece, but as an example of a wartime flag-waver it is worth a look. Hack director William Nigh did manage to turn out a couple of decent time-wasters with great titles like, I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES, DOOMED TO DIE, ESCAPE FROM HONG KONG etc.
Anna May Wong's regal beauty and charisma stands out like a diamond in
a in a sea of rhinestones in Lady From Chungking, one of two wartime
propaganda film she did for PRC Pictures. The film looks like it was
shot on a western film location and has some western like aspects.
Anna's a patrician lady here who is doing a little espionage work for the Chinese Resistance. Once exposed to her charms Japanese general Harold Huber shows absolutely no resistance. Mata Hari had nothing on Anna May Wong.
This film's location is some backwater part of western China. Until Chiang Kai-Shek chose it as his capital in exile Chungking itself was as backwater a town as you could find. Huber's presence means that a Japanese army can't be far behind and Anna's mission is to find out what Huber is up to.
in the backwater is also Ludwig Donath as a German café owner with Mae Clarke who plays a singer in his dive. Clarke is an anachronism here. Her character is supposed to the daughter of a Russian father and an American mother and Clarke's never seen the USA. She may never have seen it, but she sure sounds it. She must have listened to a lot of radio broadcasts and seen a lot of movies, especially Joan Blondell movies.
Add a couple of downed Flying Tigers, Rick Vallin and Paul Bryar who is from, where else, Brooklyn and you have all the ingredients.
Anna May Wong gives this film an extra couple of notches, but it's still a Poverty Row PRC film and that's never a good sign.
This turns out to be a very watchable programmer from PRC. Anna May Wong commands the screen throughout and Mae Clarke isn't bad either. The whole story is told in little more than an hour, as per most poverty row productions, and considering the budget, it looks rather convincing. These little studios gave some one-time big stars such as those in this film a chance to show that they still had it. The production is directed by poverty row ace William Nigh, who does a fairly good job here. This was obviously but one of dozens of WW2 propaganda films, but this still has the power to entertain. Available on DVD or streaming on YouTube.
"Lady from Chungking" was a Wartime propaganda-style Flag-Waver made on
a shoestring budget that really shows. The only real reason for
watching this film today is for its' star, Anna May Wong.
Ms. Wong's career was a study in contrast and conflict. The conflict was her battle for professional recognition and against prejudice. The contrast was that so often her genuine talent and truly great beauty and poise was put on display alongside actors who couldn't hold a candle to her and in films made as cheaply as possible.
"Lady from Chungking", although made relatively late in her career, is a typical example of all the above. Ms. Wong OWNS every scene she appears in - as was true of most her work. Her co-stars appear dull and forced beside her. The "Chinese" sets are nothing but trinkets and wall-hangings and cheap furniture - usually dimly lit in hopes we won't notice. The Japanese general's uniform looks like it came from leftovers of "The Emperor Jones". As is typical of these films, only REAL Asian actors sound legit(because they talk like the ordinary Americans they were), while all the Whites playing Asian roles sound incredibly Racist and Fake precisely because they are trying to sound Asian!!
Then just when you're ready to chuck the whole thing - along comes another scene with Anna May Wong. She was an excellent talent, a True Star, and a Fashion Icon in her day and it is obvious every time she is on camera. There are certainly better Anna May Wong films out there but if this one is available take the chance to see it. Ms. Wong is the "Pearl" in this oyster of a film and you will be rewarded if you take the time to find her in it.
Six Stars only as even Anna can't work miracles here.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wow....were there so few Asian actors in Hollywood that they had to
make Jewish-American Harold Huber (who often played Hispanic or
Brooklyn characters) a Japanese General in this film...or were the film
makers just idiots? Well, considering the Russian lady with perfect
American diction and accent, I can just assume they were idiots.
Regardless, it's pretty funny seeing the terrible casting in this
movie. And, since it was made by a so-called 'poverty row' studio
(because of their extraordinarily low budgets and resources), this sort
of thing isn't at all surprising to those familiar with these
third-rate production companies...nor are the obviously balsa wood
planes used when the film begins.
The film is set in Occupied China during WWII. The Japanese are in charge and LOTS of international folks drop by--including Germans, Russians and Americans. However, as I said above, the casting is weird so they all seem about the same. Anna May Wong plays a Chinese lady (this is bizarre as she really was Chinese) who cozies up to the General and pretends to be loyal to the new order--all the while she works to help her country regain its freedom. And, to further her plan, she helps free two downed American pilots. Then, things get pretty crazy--ending in an incredibly preachy little speech from Wong that is just too goofy to explain--you just need to see it.
I have seen dozens and dozens of American WWII propaganda films, and while this is not the very worst...it's close. No one in the film playing any of the ethnic parts did them justice (except Wong) and the acting was pretty limp at times. Additionally, the script just seemed cheap as did the entire production. Watchable...but nothing more.
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