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大地兒女 (1965)
Sons of Good Earth

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 10/25/2010
Summary: Grand sweeping epic with a personal feel

I endorse everything the first two reviewers have said, and certainly recommend this grand film. One of the plot holes is worthy of mention, as it is gaping. The story proper starts in 1937 with the Rape Of Nanking, which of course stirs the patriots into action. Only a little time seems to pass from the intense personal worries of the leading couple to the war action, and just a little more until the denouement. Yet, suddenly near the end of the film, it is 1945 and the Japanese are surrendering. This is a mighty jolt and a sad blot on an otherwise excellent production.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 05/05/2007
Summary: Worthy debut

The year is 1937 – just prior to the Japanese invasion of China. Painters Ju Rui and Lao San (Peter Chen and Lee Kwan) inadvertently stumble upon He Hua (Betty Loh), a woman sold into the sex industry at a local brothel. Doing the decent thing, they protect her from the brothel keeper by posing as a married couple. The relationship quickly becomes the real thing after a comment by kindly old sergeant Hao (Kok Lee-Yan), who proves to be too clever to have the wool pulled over his eyes. Their peaceful life is shattered when the Japanese invaders come to town and begin their reign of terror. But certain citizens such as Director Ding (King Hu) start mobilizing guerrilla forces in the area.

This was King Hu’s first film as sole director (although he has that credit on The Story of Sue San, he was apparently supervised by Li Han-Hsiang), but already some King Hu trademarks are in place. It starts as one thing (a romantic comedy, believe it or not) and ends up as something completely different (a war film), going through something else in the middle (a political drama, for want of a better term) without the separate pieces jarring together horribly. The film is also shot fantastically, but that is standard for a King Hu film and hardly warrants a mention. Actually, the soundtrack almost steals the show – there’s so much martial music here that it reminds you of one of those big WWII epics made in Hollywood during the period.

The two leads play painters caught up in the whole mess, and do a pretty good job of it. Lee Kwan will be familiar to many as a comedy actor in such films as Fearless Hyena, but here he pretty much plays it straight. There are also so many familiar faces in this such as veterans Kok Lee-Yan, Ku Feng and Tien Feng – who between them probably racked up film appearances well into triple figures! King Hu himself appears in a supporting heroic role, and does a pretty decent job of it.

There are certain small lapses in the narrative from time to time, but the whole thing hangs together surprisingly well and there’s hardly a hint of melodrama involved. This is perhaps the least sensationalist portrayal of the Japanese invasion of China I’ve seen, but you’ve still got your despicable villains (one of whom is played by Fung Ngai, who seems to have made a career out of playing Japanese villains). The film does have an unnecessarily jingoistic feel at times, and it’s hard to believe that China wasn’t actually at war with anybody when this film was made.

You will have to suspend your disbelief a number of times, but Sons of Good Earth is certainly worth watching.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 04/24/2006
Summary: 9/10 - solid debut from one of cinema's masters

King Hu's directorial debut is a stirring tale of Chinese patriots resisting the brutal Japanese occupation from 1938-1945, and a nice little love story, and a strong human drama.

Peter Chen Ho plays Ju Rui, a painter in a small, poor village. He meets He Hua (played by his real-life wife Betty Loh Ti) when she escapes from the town brothel, and takes her in. Gradually, feelings develop between the shy couple. But then the Japanese army rolls into town, and life for all around changes dramatically - as does the tone of the film (well, not "dramatically" in that case). Gradually we become aware that there is a resistance movement amongst the populace, and the final act takes the film in yet another direction - becoming surprisingly action-packed!

King Hu is best known for his genre defining and busting wu xia film, which began the following year with COME DRINK WITH ME. It's his rare gift for characterisation, narrative structure and visual story-telling that made his wu xia pian so impressive though - well, and his visionary filming of martial arts sequences. It's obvious that the other skills should transcend genre though, but I wasn't sure whether he would have developed them by the time he made his first film. I'm happy to report that although not as refined as it would become over the next few years, his talent is definitely apparent in SONS OF GOOD EARTH. The story is well told, the characters memorable and (somewhat) complex, and the production values impressively high (apart from a few too many shots that aren't properly in focus!). What starts off as quite a light and warm comedy becomes something much deeper and darker, with the three act structure building a world for the inhabitants, bringing it crashing down, and finally giving them a chance to fight to rebuild it. The film won a special award for "promotion of ethnic spirit", which is to say it's quite nationalistic, but even the Japanese characters are better developed than they would be in most directors' work.

One of the things that makes the film interesting is that it gives the stars a chance to play against type... Peter Chen Ho was an idol for his roles in comedies and musicals, and Betty Loh Ti was one of the major stars of Huangmei Opera. Both are challenged with characters and scenes that are (I think) quite different to anything they had done before - but under King Hu's guidance, both do a fine job.

The final act was for me the most surprising. I don't generally watch war films, but it seemed to me that the battles here were rather more intense than would have been the case in most war films of the time. They don't have the grace and magic of King Hu's martial arts battles, but the staging of the gunplay seemed very well thought out and executed... and were certainly exciting. Almost made me want to watch more war films in fact :)

If it wasn't for King Hu's name, SONS OF GOOD EARTH is probably not a film I would have thought about watching, but I definitely wanted to see what his debut film was like. It's nothing like COME DRINK WITH ME, but it's still a great film. Not being familiar with many other films of the genre(s) from this period, I can't really say how it compares with them or whether another writer/director could have carried the story off so well... I find it unlikely, though. Since the film did win several awards (though not "Best Director"), I think it's definitely safe to assume it's amongst the cream of the crop.


Reviewer Score: 9