Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dragon Seed (Jack Conway and Harold S. Bucquet, 1944) B-

Dragon Seed, in my never ending quest to see every Oscar nominated picture in the Top 6 categories, is one I've been subconsciously avoiding for years now. Why? Because of the fact that my beloved Katharine Hepburn- unmistakable New England accent and all- plays a Chinese peasant in so-called "yellow face." Seeing various publicity stills made my stomach turn at its offensiveness. In the past couple weeks though, I manned up, taped this film and, lo and behold, imagine my surprise when I watched it a couple of nights ago that it's actually not that bad. In fact, it's quite good. Ignore the obvious yellow face and squirm-inducing makeup and you'll find that Dragon Seed tells quite a fascinating story about the Japanese invasion of China. Made during World War II, I find it interesting how well the film parallels what was happening in Europe concerning the invasion of the Nazis. The Japanese invaders in Dragon Seed don't work with the peasants to set up a government or even ask for their input- instead they take over everything, treat the conquered like shit and force them to take sides with a "you're either with us or against us" policy. The most interesting thing I see in this parallel is the Wu Lien character, played by Akim Tamiroff, and his decision to support the Japanese so he can live comfortably and not scrounging for food like the rest of his family. He sees what they are doing and knows it is wrong, but yet he says that it doesn't concern him and he needs to protect his own interests. Wu Lien constantly fears for his life and knows that one slip up will cause him to be killed by the Japanese. Boy, that sounds vaguely familiar. Thankfully, Katharine Hepburn doesn't hog the screen much here and thank the Lord since she's pretty much a bore here, spouting off academic nonsense and speaking in a horrible monotone. The real stars are Walter Huston and the Oscar-nominated Aline MacMahon as the parents trying to hold their family together while trying to adapt to the new China. MacMahon especially earned her nomination for that scene in which she holds Hepburn's new grandchild after the death of the rest of them.

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