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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.
I was able to view this film at its American premiere at an historic theatre in Macon, GA. Why Macon, GA? Because the Soong sisters were educated at Wesleyan College, in Macon, GA. I was a student at Wesleyan at the time and was already in awe of the "aura" of the Soong sisters. This film only increased that awe. Being a history major, historical films are often difficult to for me to watch whenever there are any inaccuracies. However, I was completely engrossed with this film from the first beautifully shot scene to the last. The artistic merit of this movie is enough of a reason to watch it. I can't recommend this film to everyone; it is long, about history, & has subtitles (which my husband would argue makes for a horrible film). If you like films which draw you in & leave you wanting more, this is a good addition to your collection.
Although this film glosses over the real facts, it is nevertheless an
interesting look at the astonishing lives of three famous sisters who
whether because of, or despite, their unusual Christian US college educated
upbringing, married major players in China's 20th century history, and an
interesting comparison to "The Last Emperor" which dealt with the same
period of China's history.
Any film about women, made by a woman, suffers from a bias, and this film is no exception. No mention was made of the three brothers, or what became of them. Because the rise of the sisters was due in no small way to their father's conversion from a young Chinese shop assistant to an American educated Christian minister, subsequently making a fortune printing bibles, I would have liked at least a prologue showing his extraordinary progress. Not only was their father a Methodist Minister but he had a very western progressive outlook, and judging by their lack of filial piety - spoiled his girls rotten.
Of the three girls, only Ching-Ling comes across as sincere, the others appear motivated by greed and power. This slant may of course be due to the mainland Chinese influence.
Overall, the film can be summed up as a spectacular epic romance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A romantic, yet tragic story about the relationship between 3 sisters
which would ultimately shape the future of China.
Beautiful cinematography, excellent cast, even to the tiniest details about the lives of the sisters were well done.
A scene where the characteristics of the 3 sisters were laid out for all to see was the demonstration that they attended at a very young age. We recall how the father, Charlie Soong had asked them to throw away their dolls as they were foreign made. The youngest refused, so the second took her doll and her youngest sister and threw it into the raging fire. The eldest on the other hand hid her doll in her sleeve. A testament to the characters of the girls.
The show makes us love the second sister, Ching-ling for her passion and dedication to her country. It makes us look at all 3 sisters and feel that the luckiest was the one motivated by greed and thus married a banker. We cry as we see Ching-ling lose her baby, then her father, and finally her husband, as if it was the price she paid, for loving her country.
The show makes you feel sorry for the Communists as Chiang Kai shek went around persecuting them while Japan was fighting a war with China. Cries from his own party members to unite with the Communists to fight the Japanese went unheeded until he was abducted. One wonders if Chiang ever realised that his true enemy was himself, and not the Communists.
One feels sorry for Sun (acted well by Winston Chao, and he looks uncannily like the man himself), perhaps because his true vision of China was probably realised at a very heavy price, the price of freedom. While Soong Ching-ling remained loyal till the very end to her country, a question lingered long in her mind and the minds of her sisters...did they find the new China their father had wanted them to find? All 3 lead actresses displayed their acting prowess in the show. The youngest (played by Vivian Wu), who thought it was romantic of her sister to elope with Sun though life with him would have been very unstable, yet who had no qualms about standing by her husband in the quest for greater power. The role of the second sister was well played by Maggie Cheung as she showed her love for her country, her wit (when she said that both she and the plane were made in China, so why could they not trust made in China goods) and her loyalty to the memory of Sun (when she stepped down from the party, feeling that its true principles had been betrayed.
Michelle Yeoh acted well as the eldest sister, she even looks the part (as a mentor to her younger sisters). Her approval of the match between Chiang and May-ling showed that she let greed get the better of her. She knew Chiang would be powerful, and what better business deal to do than to strike one with the most powerful man in China? Hsing-kuo Wu did well as Chiang kai shek. Not only did he look the part, the manner in which he exude wickedness made you believe that Chiang is there at the scene in the movie! So one loved money, one loved power, and one loved her country. And the country's future depended on the relationship of these sisters. Is that why the story never truly ended?
9* out of 10
This stunning non-fiction epic is filled with cinematic splendour. Base on accounts of the social upheavals in various points and eras in Chinese history, it is filled with gorgeous cinematography, great score by Kitaro and great cast. Historically accurate if not, a few minor point may be incorrect, but as a whole, it shows you the big picture.
With some of the best stars there is from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Maggie Cheung, Michelle Khan and Vivian Wu portrayal as the three sister are excellent. But the most powerful in performance are from the men. Jiang Wen (outspoken Charlie Soong) also a favourite actor of mine, Winston Chou (charismatic Sun Yatsen) and Kuo Chiuwu (commanding Chiang Kaishek) are powerful and haunting.
Despite an 18 minute footage cut from the original, still its a great direction from Mabel Cheung. As a loyal fan of great movies from China, in likes of directors Yimou, Kaige, XieFei and HePing, Soong Sisters to me will be one of my personal favourite masterpiece, one of the few from Hong Kong.
On the eve of the turnover to China, Mabel Cheung decides to soft-pedal
(some might say "warp") history in favor of the party line. This is not
so much the story as legend of the Soong Sisters, three well-educated
Chinese women who (as the saying goes) respectively married for a love
of wealth, a love of power, and a love of China.
As a soft-hued, Stanley Kwan-ish period piece, the melodrama works well enough. As a character study of these singular women, it is disturbingly deficient; only Maggie Cheung as Ching-Ling, the socially conscious husband of Sun Yat Sen figures close to what we know. As history...well, let's just say that the film is oblivious to the oldest sister's well-documented draconian schemings, not to mention the youngest's public charisma crossed with spoiled petulance.
It's critical to the film that these three extraordinary women be portrayed as personable; as Ai-ling, the oldest sister, Michelle Yeoh is always engaging and instantly likable. The real Ai-ling may have put on a show for friends and diplomats, but the record tells a different story, which includes political assassination and worse. A film has to be evaluated on its honesty, the The Soong Sisters -- perhaps consciously, perhaps not -- tells lies that brutalized generations.
This film does have extraordinary set-decoration and photography, and its story is quietly engaging. A few even sniffled at the poignant finish. I can imagine there's just as much reason to react in anger. If you must, see it for the high-budget glory, but dismiss it as anything but fiction.
It is interesting, and logical of course, that the reaction to this Hong Kong flick ranges from anathema to anthem, but, for overseas Chinese who neither speak the lingo nor are too familiar with the facts, this "Soong Dynasty" cinematic fable is more than watchable. That it is more fable than fact is readily obvious, yet the fable is more than entertaining. It is doubtful in the extreme, that Ching-ling survived miscarriage and 42 days sloshing through the marshes as portrayed, but until a more sober and satisfactory account of Mme. Sun's life and accomplishments are on the film record, this portrait will have to do. The production is super, even if the glib pictorials may off-put in their slick projections. And, finally, from this perch, one of the most engaging sidelights here is the wondrous staging of the opera house, wherein Chiang Kai-shek ogles and woos May-ling. I found myself wishing the principals would get out of the way to let the opera speak for itself in toto. Reminded me of how Hollywood always cut away from more interesting spectacle to zoom in on the treacly romance of the overpaid and under-talented "stars." Oh, well, you can't have everything, and there was enough of the opera and its stellar performers, inter-cut nicely with war footage. Soneone should make a film about Chinese opera, and I don't mean that saga about the two star=crossed Peking Opera stars, and especially not that impossible restaging of that improbable romance between a French diplomat and a cross-dressing starlet.
Showing history accurately with all its complexities in a movie under a
couple of hours will always be challenging. Mabel Cheung should be
commended for trying.
Her attempt to tell the story of the birth of the Chinese Republic through the three Soong sisters succeeded as a engaging watchable movie. But unfortunately it fails to be a masterpiece that the material demands.
Here is a drama of a vast nation struggling to come to terms with itself and with the rest of the world (which was either benign or well meaning). Yet the story was told more like a soap opera of three rich but rather spoiled girls. The argument between the wife of Sun Yat- Sen, Ching Ling, and wife of Chiang Kai Shek, Mei King, at one point was presented as a sibling rivalry as who gets to be the First Lady of China.
For the technically inclined, the film editing can be better. While trying to juxtapose a Peking opera performance with the escape of Soong Ching Ling from hostility, instead of emphasizing the drama, the cut & jump seem to be disjointed. The action sequences also lack authenticity and pace.
Watch this movie as entertainment, you will be rewarded with beautiful art direction, good photography and overall superb acting (with a very convincing performance by Jiang Wen as Charlie Soong).
Until seeing Mabel Cheung's "Song jia huang chao" ("The Soong Sisters"
in English), I had never even heard of the Soong sisters. The movie
does a really good job focusing on their childhood leading to the
establishment of the Republic of China, and then the sisters'
associations with important figures in China's history. Ching-ling
(Maggie Cheung) married Sun Yat-sen, May-ling (Vivian Wu) married
Chiang Kai-shek, and Ai-ling (Michelle Yeoh) married H. H. Kung,
although his role is minimized. Large portions of the movie seem to be
about the visuals, as we see the elegant setting in which the sisters
The film came out the same year that Hong Kong got returned to China, so it might have had the aim of getting the two off to a good start. Of course, they had to include lines very favorable to the PRC, namely: "Before, we were slaves of old China. Now, we are slaves of slaves of old China." Overall, this one could appropriately accompany a showing of Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun". I certainly recommend it. Also starring Winston Chao, Hsing-kuo Wu, Zhenhua Niu, Elaine Jin and Wen Jiang.
Yes. this film distorts history. And misrepresents one of the great
of WWII: the G'mo as the Americans called him. But, the imagery is
powerful. And so is all the acting. Especially the actor playing the
and all three of the daughters.
Keep the truth in mind (for example, Chiang did not capitulate at Xian when he was kidnapped) and enjoy this wonderful film.
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