Empire of the Sun (1987)


When the Japanese attack Shanghai in 1941, a British boy called James (Christian Bale) is separated from his parents and ends up in an internment camp…

Seen before? Yes, once, a long time ago.

Best performance: Miranda Richardson (superb) gets second billing for a small but haunted performance as a camp inmate. It’s a shame Christian Bale grew up to be such an insufferable cockstain, as he really is quite excellent in this.

Best scene/moment/sequence: The chaos and commotion of everyone trying to flee Shanghai is stunningly staged.

Review: The third of Spielberg’s eight films set during or soon before a World War; the second to have events kicked off by the attack on Pearl Harbor; the second to be partial set in Shanghai; and the second movie running not to include any genre/sci-fi/horror elements. It’s an effective character story weaved in with real history, and has plenty of light and shade. What struck me most while watching this again was its enormous sense of scale. Some sequences take place across entire city streets and use thousands of excellently marshalled extras; one scene, the DVD special features told me, shut down seven blocks of Shanghai’s busiest street. The internment camp sets, meanwhile, are *huge*, yet still very detailed and textured. And an epic daytime air raid is all the more daring, dangerous and downright cinematic for being done for real – no dislocating CGI or crummy matte effects here. Bombers fly past the actors, monumental crowds fill the screen, and buildings explode while our main character cheers *in shot*. It’s breathtakingly well executed.

Eight toy planes out of 10.

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