Empire of the Sun (1987) Poster

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From a Japanese girl
Angel3263 November 1998
This is the first time I commented on a film. I saw this yesterday night for the first time. And I just cried.

I cried for Jim. I cried for the pain our country caused in the innocent civilians. (Japan can be so stupid!) I cried for the pilots of the Zero-sen.

I've read and seen lots of movies of these pilots. They're called tokoutai in Japanese. They get on their planes knowing they will die. It's a suicide mission, and they were very proud of it. I know if you're on the winning side you may not sympathize these pilots, but they were just fighting for their country. In those days, the emperor was everything. They taught you to die for the emperor at school when you were only in 1st grade.

But I don't know the war. I've never experienced it. I can't understand the concept of dying for your emperor. So I sympathise with Jim. Jim is a symbol. A symbol of innocence, of the horrors of war. His singing proves that too. He's also the ray of light for these prisoners. His energy and vitality are important aspects. It brings out some human characteristics in the sergent as well.

Christian Bale was remarkable. He should be commemorated or something for this performance, cause it was just brilliant. So was John Malcovich.

Overall it was great. One of the best movies I ever saw. It made me think, a lot. About war, about Japan, about history, and about humans in general.
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Extraordinary film
artzau19 August 2001
Reading through the reviews, there were a lot of people who didn't understand this film. This is Spielberg's venture into the realm of art in cinematography. This film is a visual masterpiece and you are swept along from beginning to end. Yes, the tale gets a bit loose in spots and you never know what's going to happen next. But, if you're willing to give up warm and fuzzy for lush visual images and startling leaps of character, you'll see what Spielberg's trying to accomplish. This film makes use of the talents of Miranda Richardson and gives some early exposure to the likes of John Malkovich and Ben Stiller, but young Christian Bale steals the show. The reviewer that commented on the "gothic" effect of the Tai-Pan's going to the costume ball being driven through Shanghai was right on. This film is rife with such scenes and does not disappoint. It's wholly misleading to look for some kind of action story underlying this film. The tale, taken from the book, is straightforward enough: a young boy's boost into manhood through the second world war. The film is full of memorable moments and visually very, very pleasing. As art, it is excellent. That's likely why it wasn't a blockbuster, as say, e.g., Poltergeist, Close Encounters and the Jurassic Park films, were. But, hey. That's the cost of creating art as opposed to crap. And, crap does draw a lot of flies...
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Extraordinary performance from Christian Bale
I had put off watching this until recently, I do not know why, I had not read reviews and for some reason imagined it to be a movie about a young Japanese prince(!!).

I was captivated by the performance of Christian Bale as a privileged young boy named Jim Graham, growing up in Shanghai, very far removed from the poverty and despair all around him. When war breaks out, this changes him forever and hence the story.

After some harrowing experiences he winds up in a prisoner of war camp where he befriends some interesting characters and quickly adapts to a life of conniving and subterfuge to survive.

The transformation of Jim is beautifully captured, Steven Spielberg is a gifted director of child actors and gets a maximum performance always.

I was enthralled from beginning to end, young Jim was forever changed by his experiences and this change is portrayed starkly here when he is finally reunited with his parents.

8 out of 10 for equally impressive performances from John Malkovich and Miranda Richardson, but Christian Bale's performance deserved an Oscar.
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Survivng life when your world has been turned upside down.
gbavedas776 January 2005
I saw this movie 17 years ago as a ten year old in the theater and saw it again for the first time since then last night on a TV movie channel. I have to say I'm almost ashamed that I forgot what a great movie this was...what a great movie it still is. The film contains parts very competently played by the then relatively un-knowns John Malkovic, Joey "Pants" and Ben Stiller. The lead was played, and very well done at that, by a then young actor Christian Bales (sp?). The acting in this movie is fantastic and the story line is is as rich as any other of the best movies I've seen. Following the trials and tribulations of a child from an affluent family separated from his parents in China after the Japanese invasion. This movie will make you angry, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will frustrate the living daylights out of you and in the end you'll feel warm and fuzzy: but the hollow kind of warm and fuzzy that only comes after a very harrowing experience. If you don't like war movies don't worry!!! When you watch this film you'll see it's not as much of a war movie as it is a story of survival and the brutal realities of life when the world has been turned upside down. The movie really spoke to me partially b/c I was a young kid when I first saw it and the main character is also a young man. However, this movie also spoke to me on a much different, deeper level. Ever since I was child I was always fortunate/blessed enough to have my family along with everything I needed and most of what I wanted. This movie depicts what happens when all of those familiar things and creature comforts are taken away...it makes you ask yourself: What would I do in this situation? How would I react? A fantastic movie for almost all ages!!!
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NeuroticMovieLover13 December 2004
I came across this film while I was flipping through the channels on my t.v. This is truly an astounding film. The inimitable dialogue, the dazzling scenes, and most importantly the profundity of its premise make this film unforgettable and worthy of sycophantic obsession. I was completely enraptured by the brilliant acting. I believe this is Steven Spielberg's most noteworthy film. His other movies pale in comparison to this one. John Malkovich and Christian Bale are incredible as usual, but in this film they bring to life a story of a boy who loses everything due to a country trying to conquer everything. The physical and mental destruction of war and the injurious effects of loneliness are very clichéd themes, but this film conveys them in an incomparable way. This is undoubtedly one of my favorite films, and I suggest that everyone take the time to watch it. It would be exceedingly foolish of one to not watch it.
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truly inspirational
carebear-74 December 1998
Warning: Spoilers
When I saw this movie for the first time I was a fifteen year old kid more interested in the fact that Christian Bale was in it than what it was about. I had no idea what it was about or how it would effect me. From the opening frames of the film to the last scene of young Jim's eyes slowly closing, it is a masterpiece in film making. This film should be regarded as one of the most visually stunning films of all time. Spielberg, in his infinite wisdom, has created a film of such beauty and sadness, that I can't compare it to anything else I have ever seen. Bale's performance brought me to tears. I had never seen anyone his age or older give such a performance. He has remained, not just a pretty face, but a true jewel in the craft of performing. Entranced by each moment and each actor in the film, I was inspired to continue my own performing in hopes to move someone the way the actors in this film moved me. I also began to study more on the period and read the novel itself. Speilberg was so true to the novel that you can even pick up the most minute details in the film. I recommend this film to anyone who hasn't seen it. It is my favorite film of all time and will continue to be an inspiration to me as a performer and as a person.
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A masterpiece in every sense of the word
Ben Lankester3 January 2001
When I first saw the epic film 'Empire Of The Sun' by the inspirational director Steven Spielberg I became emotionally involved in the story and could not help but shed a tear for the truly remarkable piece of cinema. Christian Bale performs, without question, better than any other actor has in a Hollywood film that is twice his age. As he closes his eyes at the end of the film in one of the most moving scenes I can remember, you see what a simply fantastic job Spielberg has done to bring J. G Ballard's classic book to the screen. Not ever has a film been more inspirational to me whilst following my dream to become a director as this. At the end of it you feel you want to move people when making a film as much as you were moved by this one. Wonderfully acted, beautifully shot - no other film will ever compare to this.
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This movie was a visual, character driven movie of superior quality,
thecohen30 November 2001
This movie was a visual, character driven movie of superior quality, even for Steven Speilberg. Some say that Speilberg has too much the eye of a child, but I tend to disagree. Too many filmmakers today are producing slick, throw away action flicks that at first seem promising but eventually fall into predictable, fluff and special effects laden, thinly plotted, dialogue-poor, characterless movies that are gone before the popcorn. Yes, this film has a lot of great Special Effects (So did Schindler's List.) Moreover, a lot of great action to keep the story pace from dragging. The idea of a movie is for the actors and directors to show their stuff (Hopefully around some good writing.) This movie did it for me. I have to agree with all those who praised Christian Bale for his performance in this movie. He was brilliant. In addition, I got to see Ben Stiller in an unusual role for him. I thought that John Malcovitch acted perfectly for this film and yes he was a Han Solo/Indiana Jones character, but with even less depth. His role was pivotal only in so far as it affected the boy. We were not as concerned with his character in so much as his shadow was cast on Jim through out the movie. The war was bigger than this little boy was and it was exquisitely done. Steven Speilberg gives us wonder, mystery, action, adventure and history in everything he does. He's the consummate filmmaker.
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Very emotional film, with brilliant young Christian Bale.
tegg9627 January 2004
Empire of the Sun, I have just revisited this film on DVD and was amazed the effect it left on me. This is almost an unknown film relative to most other Spielberg work. The DVD is not even available in Australia, so I had it 'Amazoned' from the US.

Christian Bales performance as the 12 year old Jim is mesmerizing. He is in virtually every scene of the 2.5 hour movie and gives us the full range of emotions. He also one of the best looking kids I've seen, which add tremendously to the viewing appeal of the movie. A true heart throb in the making.

As a history lesson Empire give us an insight to the happenings in China in WWII, and the ambitions of the Japanese Empire, which are never touched on in other WWII movies.

The most emotional part of the film for me: Jim is looking through the fence at the Japanese airbase, the sun is setting, he is dreaming of flying in those incredible machines, pilots are smartly uniformed and decorated, offices passing drinks to the young pilots, superb music playing, Zeros ready to go, Jim salutes the Japanese heroes as they are flying out. What we know is that the war is lost for Japan and these pilots are surely on Kamikaze suicide missions. We feel great empathy for these fellow human beings despite the fact that they are the enemy.

The images in Empire are beautiful to look at, the movie is thought provoking and provide some history lesson, if somewhat fantasy and sacrine sweet. A behind the scenes war movie with heart. My favourite Spielberg movie and in my top 15 of all time. Other favourites in no order. Titanic, Patton, Unforgiven, Airport, Terminator, Salaam Bombay, 2001, Bridge on River Kwai, Minority Report.
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Brilliant and Amazing
DutchOompaLoompa9 January 2005
Empire of the Sun is about a wealthy British boy living in British controlled states of China during WW2. He is torn from his parents and placed in a camp for British citizens. He tries to find a way to connect the good of his old life to the good life in the camp and a life filled with war, but finds that no matter what there is no good out of war. This is an amazingly underrated film that should be watched by a mature, attentive person. This film is laced with compassion and power put in one. A must see for war buffs (or for Spielberg buffs). No matter what even if you hate this film, you will have a favorite part. One of Spielberg greatest films ever made (personally his greatest). 10/10
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Another Wonderful Spielberg Creation
slayer_5_By_513 November 2004
it was one of those movies i never expected to watch. it was late, i was bored, and i happened to stumble upon a channel i barely ever watch. and while i sat watching events unfold in front of me, i slowly forgot about my usual program of interest. there is something about this film that truly captivates you and leaves your eyes glued to it every second. Christian bale displays his talents wonderfully in this movie, and the most striking thing to me was his ability to give such a realistic, yet youthful performance. his subtle acts of defiance against authority, his brave expeditions that left older men in awe, the fact that a little boy could irritate a general so much. friendships were forged, even with the enemy and it was by far one of the most astounding movies i've ever seen. it's long, it's good, and if you haven't seen it - do so.
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A Movie Of Great Moments Without Being A Great Movie
Theo Robertson22 July 2004
From Spring Of 1940 to the Summer of 1941 Britain experienced " Its finest hour " where an island people found itself fighting alone against Nazi Germany and fascist Italy . We experienced Dunkirk , the blitz , the battle of Britain and 36,000 British and commonwealth troops held back a force of 400,000 Italian troops in North Africa . If Britain had accepted the Nazi peace deal on offer the history of the human race would have been entirely different and not in a good way either . Ironically after this zenith of British courage we went onto lose the peace which is something we've been resentful about ever since

I'm being neither nostalgic nor nostalgic when I point out the above . It's just in the early scenes of EMPIRE OF THE SUN the Brits in China are shown as being arrogant , ignorant phillistines who all live in nice big houses . Maybe this might have been true of those Brits living in ivory towers running the empire but it's an atypical view of the average Brit during the second world war . I might have let it pass but seeing as the director's Steven Spielberg who insists on always casting British actors to play Nazis in all his movies and who put the boot into Monty in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN I can't help thinking he's somewhat Anglophobic . Read my opening paragraph and you'll learn more about Britain in the second world war than you will from seeing this movie

There's other flaws in the screenplay ( Written by Tom Stoppard who's not an American by the way ) which people have noticed . It is rather disjointed and episodic . The audience is shown the events of the Japanese Imperial Army invading Shanghai in 1941 where all the Westerners are put into a holding camp then events jump forward almost FOUR years later where the prisoners are held in an internment camp . What ? Nothing of any interest has happened in four years ? Some critics have also mentioned the rather clichéd characters and I agree . The Brits are all rather stiff upper lipped types while the Yanks have a cheeky extrovert attitude with plenty of scams going on . Did the Americans have a monopoly on scams during the war ? I also have serious reservations on the way the Japanese are portrayed in this movie . When Alexander Solzhenitsyn said " The only difference between the Nazis and the communists is that the Nazis used gas " it's a statement that could have been used to describe the Japanese occupation forces of the 1930s and 40s , but here they're shown as noble warriors ( I don't dispute the raw courage of the Japanese of the time but there's nothing noble about mass murder ) who salute the young James . If the author of the book JG Ballard said it this scene happened then it happened but I do have many reservations about the Japanese portrayal

There are many positive aspects to EMPIRE OF THE SUN . Technically it's very good with some fine scenes like the above saluting scene and the mustang flying over the internment camp with the pilot waving to young James in slow motion and the scene where the young protagonist believes he can resurrect his dead friend but for me the best scene is where Basie is allowed onto a truck where he turns his back on James who is left behind in a heart wrenching moment . It's these moments that linger long in the memory and certainly make EMPIRE OF THE SUN a far better regarded film than it certainly deserves to be

It's also a film with a very good cast who rise above the material . It's surprising to think this now but when the movie was released in 1987 both Nigel Havers and Miranda Richardson where only known for their sit com roles. Richardson ( So awful in BLACKADDER 2 ) is very good here and went onto to become more or less Britain's best actress in the early 1990s and there's early screen appearances by Joe Panoliano , Ben Stiller ( Yes that one ) and Paul McGann . Despite playing an irritating character ( And characters don't come anymore irritating than a 14 year old boy with a bi-polar disorder ) Christian Bale is excellent and it's nice to know he still gets regular employment as an adult actor . The only disappointment is John Malkovich but I've never been a fan of his " Stoned Jack Nicolson " type of acting and like I said he does appear in the movie's best scene

EMPIRE OF THE SUN has it's moments but that's all they are - moments . They stay in the mind making you believe that it's a far better movie than it actually is . It's not by any stretch of the imagination a bad or even average film but it's not a masterpiece either . Perhaps the fact that it was nominated for several Oscars ( None of which were for best film or director ) but failed to win any shows up it's true worth
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Very Dramatic and Intense Move with a Powerful Cast,
FilmBuff19948 February 2014
Empire of the Sun is a fantastic with a very well written and developed storyline and an outstanding and very dramatic cast.Its Steven Spielberg's first serious war film and while it isn't and good as the war related films he's given in more recent years (Schindlers List,Saving Private Ryan,etc.), it still is a great start for a director who has proved he can direct several different types of genres.The film cast is very professional, it's Christian Bale first big movie,he is very young in this movie and inexperienced but that dosen't show in this film,he delivers a very impressive performance,and that also goes for John Malcovich,another amazing actor,this being one if his earliest films.Fans of war films and Steven Spielberg definitely wouldn't want to miss Empire of the Sun.

Story of a young boy who is forced to grow up quickly in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War 2.
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A great adventure for a child
bkoganbing21 November 2016
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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Wonderful movie
jwb429-799-4612823 September 2013
Well, when they dropped the rations from the plane near the end, and Jim opens a canister, we see a white Lucky Strike cartoon. In 1945, Lucky Strikes were green for the Armed Services ("Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War.") This small erratum aside this is a wonderful movie, but a trifle long.

Christian Bale as a young teenager is marvelous and you can see the makings of the fine actor he has become.

The story line is simple and plot not complex. It is well acted and directed, with a few hokey special effects. I had never seen this movie before and I am sorry I missed it previously. I would highly recommend it.
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Unfairly neglected and despised - not least by me
Spleen16 November 2001
I adored "Empire of the Sun" when I first saw it. I was seventeen; I had only recently discovered how some movies could grow, looking richer and better on repeated viewings, and I fully expected this one to, as well.

So naturally I was disappointed when, instead of growing, it shrunk. The streetwise American proved to be a fairly stale character - he began to look as if Spielberg was simultaneously reaching for the cynical American in "The Bridge on the River Kwai", and Han Solo, and failing to grasp either. And the central character, I noticed, undergoes a hell of a lot: war breaks out over his head, he loses his parents during an outbreak of mass panic, he nearly starves, he's imprisoned by the Japanese and rescued by the Americans - and what, then, is the moral of it all? That people change. The story is a good deal less interesting than I first took it to be.

Well, I now realise, so what. It's not the film's fault that I first saw it when I was seventeen. The whole may be less than the sum of the parts, but the sum of the parts is a pretty big sum. There's that wonderful extended sequence, which lasts from when Jim loses his parents until he (and I admit that this part is a turn for the worse) meets the American: for a while it looks as if Spielberg cannot set a foot wrong. The way he returns to his old house and haunts it like a ghost. The way one of his old Chinese servants stops packing, methodically walks over to him, slaps him across the face, and then resumes her packing. It was the most economical way of getting through to the boy, it needed to be done, she'd wanted to do it for a while - and having done it ONCE, she could now move on to other things. The latter stretch of the movie, while disappointing, continued to serve up moments like these. The cinematography is a delight throughout, and not just because these are pretty pictures. Spielberg uses flawless images and cold, starry music to distance us from the scenes of war and privation and death and this is, I think his finest achievement: the whole film takes on the quality of vivid memories of things that cannot now be altered.

Apparently David Lean tried and failed to turn J.G. Ballard's book into a film - and indeed it looks as if Spielberg, too, tried and failed to make a David Lean film. But Lean soars so high there's plenty of room for others to fly beneath him without crashing. It may be the influence of Lean that makes the best film Spielberg made between "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Schindler's List". It's a far better study in war than "Saving Private Ryan". That film is as cheap and unsubtle as can be: it shocks us with blood and guts, then wears us down with inane spoken platitudes. "Empire of the Sun" lets us conclude the nature of the horror, and draw lessons, for ourselves.
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Empire of the Long and Boring
gavin694225 February 2006
The story of an atheist who dreams about God playing tennis, while the boy grows up in China during the Japanese occupation (1941). The boy is also fascinated with military aviation and hopes to some day join the Japanese air force. Oh, did I mention this boy is English? And a very, very young Christian Bale? Oh yes! But things change when the war heats up and his parents become separated from him. Then he gets really annoying and tries to surrender 20 times (could have been cut to ONCE) and his accent gets thicker and more irritating. I wished he would die after the first 30 minutes, but no such luck.

And why does this movie make the Chinese and Japanese armies look like a bunch of incompetent monkeys? And who's stupid idea was it to throw Ben Stiller in here? At least John Malkovich is cool. But, seriously, what's Steven Spielberg's obsession with little boys? Anyway, the film is both really good and really bad at the same time. While I must say it drags a bit too long for my liking, there were many good things about it. The focus being on the scavengers of a POW camp rather than the actual war made the film entertaining. And the way reality was blended with fantasy was brilliant, although I admit I didn't catch on right away and would probably appreciate these things more with a second viewing... though I have little desire to sit through this again. I am not a Spielberg fan, as his incredible tameness in the world of cinema leaves me feeling empty inside. This film, while better than many of his, still felt like there wasn't enough in it to justify the length.

But, who knows, maybe it's just me. Recommended if you're a Malkovich or Bale die-hard ,but otherwise you're not really missing out on anything by skipping this film.
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Xanadu-216 April 2001
Fascinating story of a boy left alone in China during world war II has movie potential. Unfortunately mr. Spielberg is just like the boy in the film, fascinated by low flying planes, explosions and mass scenes with thousands of people running about.

The drama of the story takes a backseat to the special effects and the moving camera that´s supposed to create a "magic" sense of being right there! The film though, is entirely without suspence and mystery. So the boy runs around being obnoxious and dreams of joining the big American boys. It is the work of a man who isn´t very mature and does not know how to handle adult or serious issues. The film is more like a boy´s adventure at summer camp than world war! Indiana Jones junior...
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Moving and memorable book movie adaptation about a British schoolboy's loss of innocence in a time of war
evancyl28 September 2014
This was a poignant film about the loss of innocence, capturing the full depth of the semi-autobiographical book by J.G. Ballard on which it is based. With the Japanese invading 1940s Shanghai, British schoolboy Jim Graham is separated from his parents and undergoes a remarkable journey of survival. After losing his parents in the rush of the crowd, he follows his mother's instructions to go home, only to find the house seized by the Japanese. Nevertheless, he remains there for several weeks, surviving on canned food and hoping that his mother will return. Desperate for an adult figure, he tries to surrender to the Japanese in a funny and heart-breaking scene and is eventually taken in by an American fugitive, Basie. While Basie eventually fills that role, his motives are from pure; Basie's influence and the harsh circumstances of the internment camp see Jim gradually wisen up to the ways of the world. Despite this, Jim retains a certain warmth and goodness of heart that endear the viewer to him. We also witness Jim's conflict of loyalties - he recognises how cruel the Japanese are, yet admires them for the bravery and can't quite identify with England.

Jim experienced so many complex emotions throughout and Spielberg has done an amazing job of conveying them via the cinematography and dialogue. The soundtrack was perfection. Altogether, the film is highly commendable for distilling the book's essence and packing a powerful emotional punch. While I still think that people should read the book simply because it's a masterpiece, the movie is fantastic in capturing the heart and soul of the story.
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Mind-bendingly stupid
webmaster-4928 October 2005
I read some of these comments and I'm totally floored. The acting was horrid and forced, mostly due to the director creating scenes and instructing his actors to respond in completely unrealistic ways, such as when the parents of the "lost" children simply stand around staring at the assembled children until, after an eternity, one parent recognizes their kid. Um, yeah, right. Nobody would shout out a name, right? None of the kids recognize their own freaking parents. And this movie is full of moments like this.

The Japanese come off almost like clownish figures, the Chinese as mere backdrops in their own country. The set pieces are ridiculous and none of this is even remotely close to actual history. I don't care if this is told from "the boy's perspective." That's not an excuse for lazy, unfocused, and completely unrealistic work. OK, so it's not supposed to be realism. It's "surrealism." Well, it fails on that level too as it doesn't produce a sense of wonder or fascination, but rather a sense of endless irritation and boredom as scenes go on and on, or simply cut to another unrelated scene. If Spielberg was shooting for some kind of "war as seen from a kid's point of view" he really blew it, unless we're to believe children are on a permanent happy acid trip.

Scored like a soaring Disney kid's flick and sanitized to the point of being an insult, this movie is worthless. Another example of Spielberg's total inability to cover serious subjects with anything other than the mentality of a semi-autistic child. Jim's transformations are completely phony, based on nothing more than the script. Annoying English boy turns into bad-acting English boy.

Don't let the high ratings fool you. You have been warned.
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Boring and uninteresting
sdfriar17 June 2002
I can not believe all of the positive reviews I have read on this board. I saw this film was on TV a couple nights ago, and seeing that it starred John Malkovich and was directed by Steven Spielberg, I decided to give it a go. The film has an interesting premise. From the start, it appears that this premise will grow throughout the picture. It doesn't. First of all, the child is the most annoying lead character I have ever seen. It is impossible to feel for this kid throughout the rest of the movie. The remainder of the film is spent building towards great emotional climaxes, but then the scene is uninteresting and really has no bearing upon anything. The depiction of internment camp life is something out of a post-apocolyptic movie. The title is misleading, the film really has nothing to do with the Empire of the Sun (Japan). Instead it is a aimlessly wandering film looking for a plot. Some scenes simply don't make any sense. Just when we think the movie is taking us somewhere, it drops us off in the middle of nowhere wondering where it went.
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chogno989 November 2003
Yet another proof that Mr. Spielberg doesn't have a single artistic bone. Unidimensional characters, predictable scenarios, terrible dialogue, and attempt after failed attempt to create climactic moments. On top of this a very annoying kid as the main character.

Simpleton minds will enjoy, but this is plain bad cinema.
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an episodic story laced with David Lean influence, impressive sights, though not enough
MisterWhiplash4 September 2006
Empire of the Sun must have been something that made Steven Spielberg all the more excited to work on being that, before each film he directs, he watches four specific films- The Searchers, Seven Samurai, It's a Wonderful Life, and Lawrence of Arabia- the latter of those four, and the fact that Lean originally intended to direct this film, indicate how he wanted to go with the style, the sprawling and epic tone. But if in the end I didn't feel as totally satisfied as I thought I should (it's been called one of the most underrated films of Spielberg/the 80's), it might be that parts become more interesting and worth watching than for the whole. Acting-wise the two main forces in the film, one a young, brilliant-as-a-child actor Christian Bale embodies Jamie/Jim as a kid who does go through a transformation, the typical 'coming-of-age' where he loses more than just his parents in the chaos but part of himself. The other is John Malkovich, who plays the surrogate/friend during war-time to the boy, a more hard-edged but sharp guy who's out for himself but not completely shut-off from others.

And as with any given Spielberg film, at least one or two visuals will strike up as being pretty close to what could be called "pure cinema", where you feel a kind of rush on the back of your neck at what can be done with color, light, composition, people (optional), and music. One of these might be in the first hour of the film- maybe my favorite chunk for just consistency- as Jamie first goes through the toughest part, put into the disillusionment of his fantasies of aircrafts and flying and out on his own. Jamie gets lost from his parents in a massive sea of a crowd in the city, and it's a reminder how astounding Spielberg can be with the control of it all, and how every detail adds up to an emotional toll. Once Ballard's original story (based on truth, how much I don't know) reaches into the prison camp, it becomes spotty; sometimes parts of the story work, and sometimes they don't and become a little dramatically inert. Never does Spielberg completely lose his craftsmanship, but there's something not there. Part of it might be the excision of the main chunk of war years (1941 right to 1945 in a fade), but another part of it might be somethings that just ring a little more to the sentimental than Spielberg might realize.

When Jim, for example, sees the Japanese fliers on the airfield in some minor ceremony, and he starts to sing his old choir-boy song, it just didn't seem right after such better, smaller scenes between Malkovich and Bale. Still, through this Spielberg does provide another point of great cinema, in the shot that inspired the poster of the towering sun with the plane flying across it. It's little rousing moments like this that do make the film worth seeing, but if you're coming into it after already seeing many of his great works (Schindler, Private Ryan, Munich), the real devastation from being in this situation is never as fully realized as past some kind of brighter nostalgia. There are some darker moments, but it never adds up, and certainly not from the point of view of a conflicted boy who goes through this experience of Japanese internment like Lawrence in a small way- he's a little mad, though courageous. But through Spielberg's own epic ambitions, there's something lost with really making it entertaining. It's bound to find more viewers as the years go on, and it was unfairly maligned upon its original release. Yet the irony doesn't escape me that it is sort of a minor work for the director, working on a huge canvas of locales, extras, and actors both Western and Eastern.
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This movie should be in the top of IMDb rating.
Jessica Carvalho30 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I am surprise to see that the 'user rating'of this movie is 7,5. I think it deserves a 10 and even more: to be in top of IMDb best films! Christian Bale is great in the role of Jim Graham, (As a matter of fact, 'Batman Begins' and 'Empire of the Sun' has his best performances ever!) as all the cast had a great performance as well. Based in the real life of James Graham Ballard, with the great director Steven Spielberg, everybody should watch this movie to see how the Second World War Affected the east side of the world,specially China and Japan.

Jamie Graham is a spoiled brat that was born in Shanghai in 1930. His parents are rich, and he has a great life,living in a big and beautiful house with comfort and many servants and maids,and also studying in a religious school for the upper class.Aware about the problems of the war,Jamie lives his life as usual, going to the British parties and playing with his airplanes. Until one day, where the diplomatic relations of Japan with USA are not working anymore,and the city of Shanghai is invaded by the Japanese Army. Separated from his parents, with a guy called Basie, he was moved to a civilian detention camp where he spent the remainder of World War II and part of his childhood and adolescence.

The War completely changes Jamie, from that spoiled kid to someone who knows how to care about himself alone, and that has maturity to know the problems of the people around him, as well as what the war is causing to everybody. Besides that, he sees that Basie is a jerk, and never was his friend for real. The last scene, when he meets his parents again, is very powerful, he has such an empty look...it's very sad.

I totally recommend this movie for EVERYONE,specially people who love to watch incredible biographies.
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