(Review originally written at 7 May 2008)

This feels like a real modern movie even though it's a movie that got made in the old days and features a story that is set in a very specific time period, the story doesn't feel old because it isn't a formulaic movie that features the usual story. Just basically imaging a love-story version of "The Last Samurai", in which an American woman falls into the hands of a 'villainoush' Chinese general during the Chinese Cival War. They begin to grow more toward each other because they begin to understand each other and each others cultures and prejudices toward each other are being taken away. The movie also doesn't begin like a love-story but it just slowly turns into one. It also is a reason why the movie does not feel forced with its story or typical romantic movie elements, making this movie an original one to watch. It's perhaps even a movie that was ahead of its time, also with its theme of interracial relationships.

Not sure if it completely was the movie its intentions to bring something totally new and shocking, since while watching this movie I simply more had the feeling that the movie just tried to bring a love-story to the screen that was just a bit more different and original than others. As a matter of fact its theme of interracial love already got handled in much older films so it's not like this movie is the first to handle it but nevertheless the movie feels like a breath of fresh air, when being compared to the usual love-story from the '30's.

It seems like an odd thing that a Swedish, born in Denmark, actor portrays a Chinese actor but the make-up effects are convincing looking and the fact that Nils Asther is Swedish makes sure that the character has a typical distinctive accent that sounds also like a real Chinese person that is speaking in English. As a matter of fact it was his accent that later ruined Asther's career, who was a big star before during the silent-era. There of course weren't that many Asian actors around yet in Hollywood at the time and it wasn't really uncommon for movies to cast Caucasians in Asian or black roles. Or perhaps simply because they didn't wanted to work with a real Chinese person because they regarded him as a lesser and less capable person of getting the job done. you also have to remember that this movie got made in 1933, when people's view of the world wasn't as broad.

But no the movie is not totally perfect. The movie still suffers from the typical problems most '30's movies suffer from. The emotions just don't always feel right. For instance it never really becomes obvious in the movie how desperate Megan Davis is about getting home, back to her fiancée, simply because this emotion doesn't become sensible in the movie. Also the real reason for the two main characters to get drawn toward each other and feel in love doesn't really get explained in the movie. But well, love just can't always be explained, though it seemed to me at times that the love-story within this movie was more a case of 'the Stockholm syndrome', for which the hostage gets compassion for her abductor and even fall for him. But than at the other hand the the emotions and love in the movie feel real and also truly sensible. A movie that goes both ways with its emotions but it still deserves the benefit of the doubt simply because its such a well made and acted one with a great 'modern' story.

It's a Frank Capra movie from the earlier day of his careers but it's fair to say that this movie is also one of his very best and also one of his finest directed movies, with some great memorable and greatly done sequences. It's a well told movie that doesn't feel like a normal standard made romantic movie, despite its romantic overtone with its story. It's really a movie with more layers, about different cultures, respect, betrayal, honor, trust and what war can do to people, for "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" is also still a bit of a war movie. This movie has so many elements and themes in that all get handled really well and are balanced well throughout the entire movie.

It's a movie that is set during the Chinese Civil war, that is a sort of forgotten time period already, or at least in the western world it is. The movie features a surprising amount of war sequences still and also some surprising action.

Besides the surprisingly fine acting Nils Asther, the movie also features Barbara Stanwyck, who gives a real great and effective performance. The movie is mostly about the two of them, just like a romantic story should be of course. Nevertheless it also features some interesting different characters, also played by some fine actors, that give the movie and its story often some more spice and depth.

A great 'modern' old love story.


About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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