Empire of the Sun (1987) Poster

Frequently Asked Questions

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  • The song in question is a popular Welsh lullaby called Suo Gân which was chosen by director Steven Spielberg himself after he cast Welsh actor Christian Bale. It was performed, however, by James Rainbird.

  • No. The book (which the movie was based on) is a semi-autobiographical - semi-fictionalised account of Ballard's life and his experiences during the second world war. Although it is extensively based on a true story, Ballard chose to make radical alterations for many reasons, one is that he was unsure whether some of his memories and experiences were down to hallucinations.

    When JG Ballard was interned, he wasn't separated from his parents and he also had a younger sister. In the book and the movie, Ballard's character was separated from his parents and one of the main stories was for Jim to be reunited with his family once more.

  • From the novel:

    "An hour after nightfall they reached a football stadium on the western outskirts of Nantao. This concrete arena had been built on the orders of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, in the hope that China might be host to the 1940 Olympic Games. Captured by the Japanese after their invasion in 1937, the stadium became headquarters for the war zone south of Shanghai"

    The stadium was also used to store what was looted from the wealthy foreigners' homes. The treasures had no use to the Japanese therefore they were left.

  • It's not explicitly said but Jim had to have stayed there for a month or more, judging by the gradual evaporation of the water in their swimming pool. It was only when he ran out of food and water and faced starvation that he left the house.

    The novel, even though including the fact that the pool evaporated, indicates Jim stayed in the house only for a number of days.

  • No. The story about there being pheasant beyond the barbed wire surrounding the camp & Basie making traps was a ruse. Basie wanted to see if the area between the camp and the airfield had been laced with land mines to keep the prisoners from escaping. Remember, one of Basie's plans throughout the second half of the story is his desire to escape. Jim was a part of the plan to find an escape-route through the wire and the marsh beyond it.

    In an earlier scene, a small band of Chinese people run into the POW camp and start stealing from one of the prisoners' gardens. When they run back out after being shot at by the Japanese, one of them dies from an explosion. One of the American POWs tells Basie that the man stepped on a mine. Basie is unconvinced, saying that one of the Japanese soldiers threw a grenade.

    The whole scene & the lead-up with the pheasant story serves to reinforce what we've known about Basie all along: that he can be cold and callous in his desire to survive the war.

  • No, Basie never intended to. Jim is still young and impressionable so promising him was easy. However, taking along a young teenager would have made things difficult for Basie's escape. Basie & his accomplices would likely have to travel a long distance & face hard conditions -- lack of food, water, shelter -- and Basie knew that Jim wouldn't be up to the challenge like one of the older POWs or American servicemen would be. So he left Jim behind.

  • His precise age is never given but we can probably estimate his age at the beginning of the war (1941) to be 10-12 years. That would make him 14-16 by the end of the war. Jamie (1941) does seem very mature for his age because he's gone to a fine prep school in Shanghai. By the end of the war, he has obviously matured significantly due to his experience of scrounging and surviving in the POW camp.

  • The opening narration and title cards explain a lot of this theme: Britain had settled China many years before and Shanghai held one of their most populous colonies where life was very much like living in England. By the time the film opens Jamie, probably having been born in Shanghai because his father was a rich businessman there, lived a very sheltered life among his own people and culture. His parents would have made sure that he'd never mingled significantly with the Chinese, thereby giving him what they considered to be a proper upbringing. In the camp Jim was taken in by the other Brits there and educated for several years by Dr. Rawlins, who, even with the harsh life of the camp, would have made sure that Jim's upbringing continued in the British fashion.

  • A tai-pan is a foreign businessman who operates in China or Hong Kong prior to the start of the war. Jamie's father was one such man.


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