During WWII, American film studios made tons of films featuring the enemy as monsters...snarling, drooling, evil monsters. Much of this is understandable....the country was at war. But many of these depictions went way overboard...so much so that the films seem very dated today. "China", unlike some of the more severe depictions of the enemy, is actually a bit more realistic. In fact, it's so realistic in spots that the film is much more brutal and frank than you'd expect from a Post-Code American picture.
The story is set in China just before the US entered the war in 1941. China, in contrast to the US, had been at war with China for about a decade...with Japan invading eastern China and in many cases eliminating the locals completely. So, when the film show the Japanese army doing ethnic cleansing, it's actually pretty realistic...ugly...but realistic. In addition, rapes and murders of civilians were common...and the film actually manages to show much more than I'd expect. I also mention this because the film CAN be hard to watch in places...especially in the portion where there is a rape and murders of a family. Because of this, it's far better than the average wartime propaganda movie.
Alan Ladd and William Bendix star as Americans who work for an oil company. This work brought them to China...and Ladd's character, in particular, seems more than willing to sell to the Japanese or Chinese. However, through the course of the story, he sees more and more of the Japanese atrocities and eventually joins the resistence wholeheartedly. Along for the ride is a missionary lady (Loretta Young).
A few things about the film could have been better. In particular, the casting was odd. Ladd was fine in his usual grumpy disaffected role, but Young and Bendix were all wrong. Young plays an American born and raised in China...and she seems as Chinese-American as a taco! Bendix isn't as bad, but he's supposed to be from Oregon...but he sure sounds like Brooklyn (though he apparently was from Manhattan).
On the positive side, the film did not shy away from things and was BRUTAL. While the rape was not shown, it was STRONGLY implied and you could hear the screams. As for the killing, much of it was in hand-to-hand combat and was amazingly harsh for 1943. I appreciate that, as too often war films make war seem fun or easy...here, there is great sacrifice and realism as a result. Overall, very well worth watching and one of Ladd's best.
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