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An American scientist is sent to Red China to steal the formula for a newly developed agricultural enzyme. What he is not told by his bosses is that a micro-sized bomb has been planted in his brain so that should the mission ever look likely to fail, he can be eliminated at the push of a button! Written by
Jonathon Dabell <J.D.@pixie.ntu.ac.uk>
The Chairman is a film of its time, it was made when the Sino-Soviet split was just coming to the fore, when even the Russians were getting worried about their ally south of their Asian border. It's not hard to figure out, China is big, but very full, Siberia is big and very empty. Geography even trumps politics and ideology.
Back in those days we still were not giving diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China. In fact you search the stories about China back in those days and it will inevitably be called Red China. You haven't heard that expression in a couple of decades now. So getting an American scientist for whatever reason in the country, was difficult if not impossible. Remember this was also the days when the godhead figure of their revolution Mao Tse-Tung was doing a little ideological house cleaning with those fired up young people, his Red Guards who were scaring the world back then and with good reason.
A Chinese scientist colleague of Gregory Peck's back in the day played by Keye Luke sends a letter to Peck most cryptic as it would have to have passed through censors. That triggers a little sky espionage where it is discovered that the Chinese are growing agricultural produce in places it shouldn't happen. Luke has discovered an enzyme to make it possible and with it the Chinese can get starving third world nations to its side by the droves. It's got the US and the USSR worried.
Peck's mission should he accept it is to get the formula for that enzyme out of China, not so easy for an Occidental, but he's the only guy with scientific qualifications for the job. The plot is somewhat similar in this respect to Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain.
Oh, and they've got a real joker in the deck. Cold War Air Force general Arthur Hill who is running the show has implanted a listening device in Peck's skull so he can just talk and a spy satellite above China will pick it up and transmit. But they also have it rigged with an explosive device so Peck won't fall in enemy hands. And they don't tell him about that, cute.
The Chairman is a good spy thriller with the action going along at a good clip. His race for the Soviet border will keep your adrenalin pumping the way Peck's character had to have been in the film. Best scene in the film is Peck's audience with Chairman Mao played by Conrad Yama. That was considerable license because Mao spoke no English.
What I always found fascinating is that when Mao died in 1977 the revolution as he conceived it stopped with him. Today China, no longer called Red China, is your very typical oligarchic country that has restricted freedoms to be sure as the kids who were at Tiannamen Square will testify, but a country playing very typical power politics in the old fashioned way. My God they even have a stock exchange for capitalists. What would those idealistic young Red Guards think along with the man who inspired them?
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