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The Soong family was a political dynasty in China that reached the highest levels of power. This film follows the lives of the three Soong daughters, who were educated in America and returned to China. Ai-ling (the oldest) married a wealthy and powerful businessman. Ching-ling married Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary founder of modern China. Mei-ling (the youngest) married Chiang Kai-shek, China's leader during World War II. The sisters captured the world's fascination for their brilliant marriages and their strong influence on their nation. Written by
Modern Chinese History forms the backdrop for this sweeping portrait of the Soong Sisters, three siblings who married powerful men and used their positions to influence the politics of early 20th Century China. The film spans the period from the formation of the Chinese Republic in 1911 to the take-over by the Communists in 1949. The details of history take a back seat to the real focus of this movie, however, which delves into the intricate and intimate relationships these women have with their husbands, their parents, and each other.
Lushly photographed and superbly acted, the movie showcases the talents of three veteran actors of Asian Cinema. Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Vivian Wu play sisters Ai-ling, Ching-ling, and May-ling Soong. All three seem well-cast and bring the full weight of their skill and experience to their roles. The move sizzles with electricity when these three beauties appear on screen together, as they do in several scenes. This is definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Wen Jian gives an outstanding performance as father Charlie Soong, despite dying off half-way through the story. The death-bed scene, where he passes away in the presence of his wife and three daughters, is especially moving. Winston Chao and Hsing-Kuo Wu take sold turns as Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek.
The story explores a number of themes in both a personal and social/historical context. Conflicts between father/daughter, old values/new values, old China/new China, and East/West all figure prominently in the plot. A shoe metaphor runs through-out the film, depicting the step-by-step movement of Chinese history, bringing to mind the old Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." This motif also reflects the increased role of women in Chinese social and political life, as they are liberated from the foot-binding that hobbled previous generations.
The movie is slow-moving at times, with some abrupt plot transitions. Director Mabel Cheung occasionally hits us over the head with that shoe to get her point across, and the script seems to contain some hints of political propaganda. Nevertheless, I found this to be a well-made and highly entertaining piece of Asian Cinema. Sadly, this movie is not likely to reach a wide North American audience because it's in Mandarin with English sub-titles. That's too bad, because it is just as accomplished as anything coming out of Hollywood these days, and well worth seeing.
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