During the 1900 Boxer Rebellion against foreigners in China, U.S. Army Major Matt Lewis, aided by British Consul Sir Arthur Robertson, devises a strategy to keep the rebels at bay until an international military relief force arrives.
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Diplomats, soldiers and other representatives of a dozen nations fend off the siege of the International Compound in Peking during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. The disparate interests unite for survival despite competing factions, overwhelming odds, delayed relief and tacit support of the Boxers by the Empress of China and her generals. Written by
Martin H. Booda <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It is still possible to walk around the area of Beijing which was the actual location of the Siege of the Peking Legations in 1900, and to recognize sites and street layout depicted with admirable accuracy by the sets constructed in Spain for '55 Days At Peking'. The former legation quarter is east of Tiananmen Square, bounded in the north by Changan Avenue and south by Qianmen Street. One such important site is the gate of the former British Legation in Zhengyi Road, looking remarkably as it did in photos taken in 1900. Much of the area has been occupied for many years by Chinese Government agencies. Most of the heritage buildings remaining of the old legation quarter are reconstructions after the Boxer uprising. The area's tourist potential has been little exploited. The post-Boxer former French Legation post office is the foyer of the Dongjiaominxiang Hotel. The site of the former US Legation has been renovated for up-market restaurants, bars and event venues. See more »
When Maj. Lewis, Robinson and Shiba sneak out to destroy the arsenal during the Chinese victory ceremony, when Shiba runs up the earthwork of the arsenal the ground flexes, revealing it to be hollow. See more »
Lady Sarah Robertson:
Do you think that if a child dies in a foreign place without ever having seen home that its soul doesn't rest? I think it goes into limbo - an enormous, empty Chinese limbo. And it wanders there, lost and crying...
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The siege of the Peking legation is sure-fire material for a dramatic movie. A mixed impromptu defense force from eight nations (Austria-Hungary as not depicted here) repelled many times their number of Boxer insurgents, who almost certainly would have massacred all the inhabitants had they overcame the defenders.
At the risk of being condemned as one of those 'politically correct people' this movie for the most part is a product of the time and place of its making. Charlton Heston and David Niven are given front and center treatment; the contributions of the other, non-Anglo-Saxon nations are mostly limited to depictions of extras or a few lines. There is an adorably cute mixed blood girl who is doted on by her U.S. Marine father, foreshadowing a similar Asians-as-children image used in "The Green Berets".
Yet the film has its moments of taking a less one sided view than say, "The Alamo" or "How the West Was Won". The drought that drove the tensions to the boiling point is mentioned; and the Empress Dowager is given a minute or two to describe the humiliations China had recently suffered at the hands of the Western powers and Japan. To add to what she said, one must also note the activities of Christian missionaries, who are mentioned only as victims of Boxer massacres. While the missionaries may have been independent, even sometimes critical, of their imperialist governments, it was not hard for common Chinese to equate the two. To the Chinese peasant, even one missionary in a region preaching this new religion came as an uncomfortable shock. The exclusivist doctrines of Christianity were taken by many, if not most, Chinese as disparaging of one's ancestors and therefore insulting.
The best scenes in the film deal with the interplay between the pure soldier Heston and the diplomat Niven, who takes considerations other than military into account. The movie implies that both talents were necessary to hold the legation. (Niven has the best moment: appearing before the Empress, he kicks aside the cushion placed there for him to kneel) Sexual politics comes into play at two points. When Heston marches his Marines into Peking, he says "pay cash, and don't expect any free samples"; you can bet the commodity he is referring to isn't pork fried rice. And Ava Garner (diva-ing up a storm) is treated by her fellow Russians as a pariah. Later in the movie you find out why: she had a Chinese general as a lover.
The silliest sequence concerns a raid launched by the principals to destroy a Boxer arsenal in order to embarrass a pro-Boxer prince. The raiders are disguised in what seem to be captured Boxer outfits. Other than the amusement afforded by seeing Niven looking like a Ninja, one wonders how they got the outfits; and if they got them off of dead Boxers, how many did they have to go through to find one that would fit the 6' 4" Heston?
Someday they'll make another depiction of the Legation siege, this time with actual Chinese locations - not to mention real Chinese. For now, this film will hold the interests of those with an interest in the period or the leads. A word of warning: the video copy I rented had terribly washed out colors.
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