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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>
Gregory Peck is a Nobel Prize-winning American scientist who has been recruited by the US government to go into China to steal the secret for a new enzyme that would do much to feed the starving of the world. And, oddly, the extremely closed Chinese let him in and wine and dine him. He even gets a nice cozy little audience with the ever-adorable Mao (just because he was responsible for more deaths than Hitler doesn't mean he's not a swell guy in this film). Little does Peck know, however, that the evil US government implanted an explosive device into his skull along with a transmitter (which he does know about). Will they detonate him to kill the Chairman or is there mission the one they stated at the beginning of the film?
Considering that the film is about an American espionage agent in Communist China circa 1969, you'd sure think it would be an exciting film. Add to that the talent of Gregory Peck and it seems like a guaranteed winner. Instead, the film just limps along to a less than thrilling and ridiculous conclusion.
One of the major problem is that Peck plays a scientist who hates working for US intelligence but has done so in the past. Yet oddly, despite his strong bias against the spy game, he agrees to risk his life by going into China--and you keep wondering why. His motivations seem mixed at best and this is perhaps the worst part of the film. Additionally, as the film progresses, you see that the film makers employ moral relativism--showing the US and China are basically the same. In this film, the US would love to starve the world in order to maintain its power. But comparing Mao's regime (best estimates 25-100 million killed during his rule--I guess you gotta break a few eggs to make this omelet) to the US seemed a bit...well....insane. Throw into the mix that the US and USSR are now good buddies in the film and you are left wondering who, if anyone, to root for in the movie. This really is THE main problem with the film.
Another problem, though not as severe, is the relative ease with which Peck enters China and eventually leaves China. You didn't just do this in the 1960s--heck, you don't just do this today! His ease in escaping seemed rather dumb and you know that in reality the Chinese during this time were pretty ruthless and far from dumb. Purges and counter-revolution fever were rampant--as was xenophobia (which, fortunately, has changed a lot over the years). In such a crazed environment, a 6' 3" American would probably be spotted and captured very, very quickly!
Overall, this is one of Peck's misfires. The film never seems credible though it is an interesting time-passer provided you don't think through the details too much.
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