In 1918 a simple Mongolian herdsman escapes to the hills after brawling with a western capitalist fur trader who cheats him. In 1920 he helps the partisans fight for the Soviets against the... See full summary »
The American missionary Megan Davis arrives in Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War to marry the missionary Dr. Robert Strife. However, Robert postpones their wedding to rescue some orphans in an orphanage in Chapei section that is burning in the middle of a battlefield. While returning to Shanghai with the children, they are separated in the crowd, Megan is hit in the head and knocked out, but is saved by General Yen and brought by train to his palace. As the days go by, the General's mistress Mah-Li becomes close to Megan and when she is accused of betrayal for giving classified information to the enemies, Megan asks for her life. The cruel General Yen falls in love for the naive and pure Megan and accepts her request to spare the life of Mah-Li against the will of his financial advisor Jones. Meanwhile Megan feels attracted by the powerful and gentle General Yen, but resists to his flirtation. When Mah-Li betrays General Yen and destroys his empire, Megan realizes that to be able ...Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Despite the usual horrible casting, this is a very good film!
Years ago I tried watching it off part-way through the film because I thought that the casting of Nils Asther as "General Yen" was ridiculous and rather insensitive since he looks about as Chinese as Nipsy Russell. However, on a second viewing I found that the movie STILL had a lot going for it. Plus, like it or not, casting Westerners in leading roles of Asian characters was the norm in the 1930s and 40s--there's no getting past this with only a very few exceptions.
What did I like about the film? Well, first off, despite being made in Hollywood, Columbia did an exceptional job in getting the look correct. Very impressive sets, costumes and convincing battle scenes all indicate that this was a top project for a studio which, at the time, was definitely a second-tier company. Heck, MGM and Warner would have been proud to make a movie that looked this good--and they were the "big money" studios. It certainly was a pretty film to look at and lovely cinematography sure helped as well.
Second, while the movie has some silly stereotypes, in a way it is also very modern compared to other pictures of the day. It dares to consider the possibility of interracial love (something banned when the new Production Code was put in place the following year) and despite initially come off as a demon, General Yen was quite decent and civilized in his own manner. He definitely was NOT some one-dimensional Asian caricature--having greater depth than you'd usually find in non-White characters of the day.
Finally, while odd and fully of bizarre twists, the plot really was pretty exciting and romantic. I especially loved the silly but majorly cool dream that Barbara Stanwyck had soon after Yen took her into protective custody! So, if you are looking for an unusual, pretty and very interesting film from Hollywood's golden era, then look no further. This is quite an unusual film and you won't soon forget it.
By the way, after watching this film, try SHANGHAI EXPRESS. While many of the plot elements are similar, notice how different Warner Oland's Chinese warlord character differs from Nils Asther's---there is quite the contrast.
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