THE OPIUM WARS -- K-B Janus 2.
Funny about "The Opium Wars," the 1959 film from the People's Republic of China. The Chinese actors have interesting individualistic faces and roles, but the devious Westerners all look comically alike.
The fact that the film was suppressed by Red Chinese all these years seems to suggest that it contains excitingly offensive material. This is not immediately apparent to the Western eye. Whatever it was that was censored, it was not what would be considered here to be salacious or explosive.
The film takes place in the 19th century in Canton and concerns efforts by a government minister to suppress the opium trade trom England. The film announces at the beginning that the British dumped opium on the Chinese out of revenge because the Chinese weren't buying British textiles, and there is a hilarious scene in which the British consul looks solemnly up at a portrait of the young Queen Victoria and says, "Your Majesty, your ideal is about to become true," a promise that he will fulfil her goal of doping up the entire Chinese nation.
Such crudity runs through the picture, spoiling the truly interesting dilemma of an official who finds that his own government is, in fact, against him, putting the realities of international trade above the welfare of its citizens.
Lin, the minister, is given his mission by an emperor who later undercuts him. But the plight of the diplomat who has been cut loose is no t developed. Rather, the emperor is perceived as a wild fool whose contradictions are entirely random. There are several scenes in which the emperor has a rumor repeated to him, asks the messenger what he should do, and then does it immediately without considering how it affects his previous position. Perhaps this is intended to epitomize the dangers of a ruler who can affort to be whimsical, but it makes chaos of the drama.
There are some interesting moments to the picture, such as the controlled acting of the role of Yin, the laughter of diplomatic maneuvering and several interpretations of a man who must remain publicly clam while being surprised with the information that he's had it. But these are few in a long, dull simplistic struggle, filmed in flat reds and blues with blueish shadowing - a cinematic curiosity at best.