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
Katherine Helpburn is cast in the role of a Chinese woman--need I say more!?!?
I just finished skimming through the reviews for this film and noticed that the first one actually had the gall to give this movie a score of 10! A 10 would place this film in the illustrious company as other great films such as GONE WITH THE WIND, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES or GIGI--surely it's an insult to these other great films to compare DRAGON SEED to them in any favorable way! Other than the fact they are movies, I just don't see any other rational comparison.
So why did I give the film the ridiculously low score of 2? Well, it features the very worst job of casting of any film--with the possible exception of THE CONQUERER (with John Wayne as 'Gengis Khan' and Susan Hayward as a Mongol princess). In DRAGON SEED, Katherine Hepburn (red haired and possessing a very prim and proper New England accent) and Walter Huston are among the cast playing Chinese people!! Now it was unfortunately common in the 30s and 40s to have such parts played by Westerners but at least some had the ability to almost carry it off well. Heck, Warner Oland and Sidney Toler were MUCH closer to being believable as Chinese (detective 'Charlie Chan') than either Huston or Hepburn!!! As for the rest of the story, it's a relatively dull and uninspiring Pearl Buck story with none of the impact or style as THE GOOD EARTH--a fine film from a decade earlier (despite the all Anglo cast once again). Instead, it's an anti-Japanese film made to promote the war effort in the Pacific.
By the way, as a bit of trivia, the red haired Agnes Morehead deserves special recognition, as she not only played a Chinese lady in this film but Genghis Khan's mother in THE CONQUERER--proving that horrendously stupid casting can be infectious.
Also, for more fun casting decisions featuring the most ridiculous Westerners playing Asians, try watching Edward G. Robinson in THE HATCHET MAN--an amazingly good film despite having 'Little Caesar' pretending to be Chinese. Other odd ones (humorous because they were so very, very offensive) were Marlon Brando in TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON and Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. I swear to you, all these movie references are true--Hollywood was THIS out of touch and the public actually went to these films in droves!
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