By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) –
Jim Graham is a young boy growing up in Shanghai, China in 1941. He is the son of wealthy parents, living in a neighborhood virtually untouched by World War II (now in its 2nd year). All that changes when the Japanese invade, separating Jim from his parents and now on his own. After wandering the streets for days, he is picked up by American smuggler Basie (John Malkovich), and the two are eventually captured by the Japanese and put in an internment camp for Western civilians. In the desperate conditions, Basie teaches Jim about survival, and also exploits him for his own personal gain. With the war raging, Jim observes the changing conditions of the Japanese military, and struggles to understand his own place in life.
That position? Kind of shitty…
When Empire of the Sun was first released in 1987, it was far from the blockbuster that the studios had grown to count on from director Steven Spielberg. Critics dismissed it as a lesser effort as well, quite unfairly. EOTS is a movie which requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate, so it may have thrown off those who had gotten used to being able to judge a Spielberg film immediately. This isn’t to say it isn’t at its heart a classical Spielberg movie, as the themes of childhood innocence and self discovery are certainly ones that he’s explored before.
WTF is Tugg Speedman doing here?
The first aspect of the film definitely of note is the actor who plays young Jim Graham. Steven Spielberg had worked quite well with children in the past, but never before or since has he coaxed such a naturalistic performance from a pre-teen performer. Of course, it was only a matter of time before Jim Graham became the Goddamn Batman.
The American Psycho was once a English Schoolboy
The Supporting cast also provides excellent turns, particularly John Malkovich; whose Basie character is the uncultured but streetwise antithesis to the spoiled (albeit well-educated) child Jim initially is.
In addition to the solid performances, Empire of the Sun is simply gorgeous to look at. Director Spielberg along with cinematographer Allen Daviau (E.T., The Color Purple) give the film a highly stylized look, utilizing natural light as often as possible, with numerous scenes filmed at magic hour (first and last hour of sunlight in the day). This gives the film an otherworldly feel, and given the unusual situation Jim finds himself in, works quite well. Kudos should also be given to the set designers and effects experts, who created a feeling of authenticity rarely experienced even today.
Shame on you if you haven’t seen this movie.
Take a Drink: when Jim talks about, or plays with airplanes.
Take a Drink: each time Basie puts Jim into a dangerous situation, for profit
Do a Shot: whenever you’re reminded that you’re looking at a young Christian Bale