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Ling Tang and his family live on his prosperous farm in rural Southern China and have not yet felt the impact of the Japanese invasion in the North. Tang's two oldest sons, Lao Ta Tan and Lao Er Tan are married and hard working while youngest son Lao San Tan remains a free spirit. Er's wife Jade is also willfully unconventional and desires to exercises her literacy skills by reading books, a most unfeminine practice in 1930's China. Tang's only daughter is married to Wu Lien, a city merchant who profits from selling Japanese goods. When the dreaded invasion reaches their village, the family is scattered as the sons join the resistance while Wu Lien survives by collaborating with the enemy. Written by
Beautiful story of the Chinese under Japanese occupation
Pearl Buck's novel "Dragon Seed" was made into a film in 1944. Back then, for reasons known only to themselves, the studios did not cast Chinese to play Chinese in major roles. Looking at the film now, I guess it's important to remember that to the 1944 audiences, there was nothing unusual about this.
Taking the non-Chinese casting out of the equation for just a moment, "The Dragon Seed" is a powerful story of what happened to the Chinese during the barbaric occupation of the Japanese. The story focuses on the family of Ling Tan (Walter Huston), his wife (Aline McMahon), and his sons, Lao Er Tan (Turhan Bey) and wife Jade (Katharine Hepburn), Lao San Tan (Hurd Hatfield) and Lao Ta Tan (Robert Bice). Jade is a modern thinker, and part of the story deals with the struggles between the new times and old traditions and the role of women. The other part of the story is how various people deal with the occupation. There is submissiveness, resistance, and collaboration.
I'm most moved by a review on this site by a man who has a Chinese father-in-law. His father-in-law loved the film. No one in China knew that America was on their side; they were taught to hate the western world.
So if a Chinese man can overlook the casting, I suppose I can too, but I can't. The acting is fantastic, but one wonders what was wrong with Anna May Wong, Keye Luke, Sen Yung, and why only the extras and children seemed to be at the very least Asian. For me the most egregious casting was that of Katharine Hepburn. Her acting came alive in the second part of the film. She once said that Spencer Tracy made her seem very feminine. He's not in this movie. In the beginning, in the love scenes with her husband, it doesn't come off. She's better when the character shows strength. Her finishing school accent and wig don't cut it either. Very difficult to watch. Also, she seems oddly matched with Turhan Bey.
This film is still well worth seeing. It's very dramatic and emotional, with a very big and poignant ending.
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