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Far East (2001)

TV Movie  |   |  Drama  |  20 May 2001 (USA)
5.1
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Ratings: 5.1/10 from 9 users  
Reviews: 1 user | 1 critic

Set in 1954, Far East is the story of a young Naval officer, who is the heir to a Milwaukee beer fortune, on tour of duty in occupied Japan. He becomes trapped between his love for a ... See full summary »

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Title: Far East (TV Movie 2001)

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Cast

Credited cast:
Lisa Emery ...
Julia Anderson
Michael Hayden ...
Sparky Watts
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Sachiko
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Captain James Anderson
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Bob Munger
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Folsom
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Noriko
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Tom
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Martin
Leslie Lyles ...
Aunt Emily (voice)
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Pimp
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Hank
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Officer's Wife
Yano Yoshi ...
Male Dance Instructor
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Officer's Wife
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Set in 1954, Far East is the story of a young Naval officer, who is the heir to a Milwaukee beer fortune, on tour of duty in occupied Japan. He becomes trapped between his love for a beautiful Japanese woman and his family's value system, which he is trying to escape. With clever echoes of Madame Butterfly and From Here to Eternity, tensions mount at the collision of East with West, past with present, and duty with passion in this beautifully-crafted play. Written by Thirteen

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japan | 1950s | navy | based on play | See All (4) »

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Drama

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20 May 2001 (USA)  »

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References From Here to Eternity (1953) See more »

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User Reviews

 
sexual Orient-ation
1 June 2004 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

I have mixed feelings about the career of playwright A.R. Gurney. I dislike his plays -- which tend to deal with the manners and morals of brittle WASPs -- yet I admire how well he has handled his career as a dramatist. Gurney's most successful stage work is 'Love Letters', which consists entirely of a man and a woman reading documents directly to the audience, with no dramatic interaction. The brilliantly unorthodox format of 'Love Letters' has made this work a magnet for big-name film/TV actors who lack the discipline of stage dramatics yet who hunger for a little experience in live theatre: 'Love Letters' can be staged with no rehearsal or blocking, as the cast members spend the entire 'play' sitting down and reading aloud their dialogue off printed pages. So, I commend Gurney's ingenuity without much admiring his writing.

The TV production of 'Far East' is a realistic tele-version of a Gurney stage play. The action is set at a U.S. Navy base in post-war Korea (1954). The military dialogue is highly convincing, prompting me to wonder if Gurney (born 1930) did military service in this place and time.

Sparky Watts (a self-assured performance by Michael Hayden) is one of two young officers newly posted to the Korean naval base. He straight away makes a bad impression on his C.O., Captain Anderson (underrated character actor Bill Smitrovich, giving the best performance hereabouts). Anderson is aggrieved by Watts's priorities. Watts is eager to go to Hiroshima so that he can visit the memorial to the Hibakushi (the civilian war casualties, killed by the atomic bomb), yet Watts came to his Korean posting by way of Hawaii, and he made no effort to visit the memorial to the American servicemen killed at Pearl Harbour. (I agree with Anderson on this one.)

Watts meets Anderson's wife Julia, and Gurney writes a compelling depiction of an officer's wife who has no career of her own, whose life is entirely devoted to her husband's needs and his career. Julia Anderson flirts with Watts in a manner that seems highly manipulative: she wants to arouse him sexually, yet she clearly intends to remind him that she is 'off limits' to Watts, since he is her husband's subordinate officer. Actress Lisa Emery is extremely compelling and sexy in this role, yet I found her utterly unbelievable as a 1950s Navy wife ... possibly due to her attractive 21st-century hairstyle.

I mentioned that there were *two* new officers reporting. The other is Bob Munger, a clean-cut farmboy. Munger is played by Connor Trinneer, who took this role immediately before he was cast as Trip Tucker in 'Star Trek: Enterprise'. Trinneer has impressed me in that SF series, yet he gives almost exactly the same performance here in 'Far East', forcing me to wonder how wide his range actually is.

Annoyingly, Gurney uses the term 'far East' here in the same way that Robert Towne used the term 'Chinatown' in his grossly overrated screenplay for that film: in the xenophobic sense of some utterly alien place where conventional (Caucasian) rules no longer apply. There's a bizarre scene in which a Japanese dance instructor in Korea teaches white Americans to dance a Latin mambo. The background score of 1940s and '50s popular songs throughout is impressive.

'Far East' starts to drag when Gurney gets portentous. SLIGHT SPOILERS COMING. Captain Anderson, briefing his staff on recent events in French Indo-China, tells them they'd better get used to calling the place 'Viet Nam'. (Hmm...) One of the officers turns out to be gay, which didn't impress me as a dramatic development. (Whenever an American play features a clean-cut handsome intelligent young man with a Deep Secret, it's always the same old surprise. Just once, I'd like to see an American play in which a fat moronic slob turns out to be gay.) I wanted to empathise with this character -- it must have been terrible to be a gay man in the 1950s, especially in the military -- but it turns out that he gave up some military secrets to avoid being blackmailed by the North Koreans. Sailor, I don't care what you do in your hammock ... but if you betrayed the U.S. government to a communist regime, you should rot in prison. Andrew Benator is excellent in his one scene as the military lawyer giving counsel to the defendant.

At one point, to extricate himself from a mild dilemma, Watts announces that he's in a relationship with Sachiko, a Japanese waitress at the officers' club. (Sachiko is played by an Oriental-American actress with the peculiar name Miou ... just Miou, which I guess makes her half as talented as the French film actress Miou-Miou.) We've been given absolutely no foreshadowing of this relationship, so I assumed that Watts made it up in order to avoid another entanglement. Then, when the relationship turned out to be genuine, I assumed it was merely sexual ... as Watts shows absolutely no indication of any emotional or romantic interest in Sachiko. Once I accepted that the relationship was a romantic one, it still seemed unconvincing. Gurney seems to be dredging up issues such as interracial romance and homosexuality merely because these are Very Important Subjects ... but neither of these themes is a big deal in the 21st century, so Gurney has to keep his action in 1954 where these issues still had some shock value. Has nobody told Gurney that 'South Pacific' already handled the interracial story much more intelligently?

I'm impressed with the realistic staging of this production, although the interior sequences in military installations looked much too roomy and modern. There are just a few minor details of set dressing (manual typewriters, for instance) to suggest that we're in the 1950s. When the story is over, everything we've seen seems entirely pointless. I'll rate 'Far East' 3 points out of 10, mostly for its crisp direction and camera-work.


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