A young English boy struggles to survive under Japanese occupation of China during World War II.


Steven Spielberg


Tom Stoppard (screenplay), J.G. Ballard (novel)
1,539 ( 403)
Nominated for 6 Oscars. Another 13 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Christian Bale ... Jim
John Malkovich ... Basie
Miranda Richardson ... Mrs. Victor
Nigel Havers ... Dr. Rawlins
Joe Pantoliano ... Frank Demarest
Leslie Phillips ... Maxton
Masatô Ibu ... Sgt. Nagata
Emily Richard ... Mary Graham, Jim's mother
Rupert Frazer ... John Graham, Jim's father
Peter Gale ... Mr. Victor
Takatarô Kataoka ... Kamikaze Boy Pilot (as Takatoro Kataoka)
Ben Stiller ... Dainty
David Neidorf ... Tiptree
Ralph Seymour ... Cohen
Robert Stephens ... Mr. Lockwood


Based on J. G. Ballard's autobiographical novel, tells the story of a boy, James Graham, whose privileged life is upturned by the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, December 8, 1941. Separated from his parents, he is eventually captured, and taken to Soo Chow confinement camp, next to a captured Chinese airfield. Amidst the sickness and food shortages in the camp, Jim attempts to reconstruct his former life, all the while bringing spirit and dignity to those around him. Written by Jeff Hansen <jmh@umich.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


To survive in a world at war, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.


Action | Drama | History | War


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Filmed in 16 weeks. See more »


The model airplanes Jim sets on fire are plastic models by AURORA, released in 1957. See more »


[first lines]
Narrator: [title card] In 1941 China and Japan had been in a state of undeclared war for four years. A Japanese army of occupation was in control of much of the countryside and many towns and cities. In Shanghai thousands of Westerners, protected by the diplomatic security of the International Settlement, continued to live as they had lived since the British came here in the 19th century and built in the image of their own country... built banking houses, hotels, offices, churches and homes ...
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The British Grenadiers
Arranged and Conducted by John Williams
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User Reviews

A great adventure for a child
21 November 2016 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

I can see that a tale told from a child's point of view how it would stir the imagination of one Steven Spielberg. Empire Of The Sun is a really imaginative story of a young boy stuck in World War II China in a truly terrible situation cut off from his parents. Yet young Christian Bale turns the whole thing gradually into an adventure of sorts.

Up to the age of 11 young Bale has lived in the British quarter of Shanghai and in fact has never seen the United Kingdom, his father Rupert Frazer owns a textile factory. Bale and his parents live in luxury among the millions of Chinese.

What one should remember when watching Empire Of The Sun is that since the Opium War of 1841 western powers and Japan joined them took small little nibbles out of China and in fact were granted by the weak Chinese governments special treatment in their quarters. Frazer, Emily Richard his wife and young Bale lived under British law and did not answer to the Chinese. The other powers did the same, even the USA had its own quarter in Shanghai as well as other large Chinese cities. That only ended with the Communist takeover in 1949.

It ended a bit prematurely for the west in 1941 when the Japanese attacked America, Great Britain, the Netherlands. That's when Bale's well ordered world falls apart.

I had to marvel at how when Bale came home and the parents were gone and some looting had occurred how his reactions were. Without any dialog Bale runs through a gamut of emotions. Great job of acting and directing.

Later on Bale is rounded up and taken to an internment camp next to an airfield. Fascinating how Bale who had an interest in aviation looks at the Japanese planes and become almost worshipful of the enemy. He even makes friend with some of the Japanese, a group not known for treating prisoners well in World War II.

Joe Pantoliano and John Malkovich are a pair of American adventurers, no better than they ought to be. They're caught along with Bale and sent to the internment camp. Our adult eyes see them as a pair of bottom feeders. But we see them through the child's eyes also and they become sort of devil may care rogues that one reads in pulp fiction the kind Bale no doubt read.

Steven Spielberg did a marvelous job of recreating wartime China and it certainly helped to shoot the film there. Just part of the People's Republic's post Mao entry into the community of nations.

The adult performers are fine. Empire Of The Sun got a flock of Oscar nominations in technical categories, no gold though. But it did inaugurate the career of Christian Bale who's done pretty well for himself as an adult actor too.

This one is highly recommended for its realism and encouragement of imagination.

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Release Date:

25 December 1987 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Empire of the Sun See more »

Filming Locations:

Hertfordshire, England, UK See more »


Box Office


$35,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$1,314,509, 13 December 1987

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints)| Dolby (35 mm prints)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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