China Doll

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"A Great Adventure out of the desperate days of the Famous Flying Tigers !"
  • Approved
  • 1958
  • 1 hr 39 min
  • 6.0  (559)

China Doll is a 1958 romantic drama set against the backdrop of the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940s. The film, directed by Frank Borzage, who is known for crafting tales with a sense of nostalgia and emotional depth, tells a story of unexpected love and the pull between duty and personal happiness. The film stars Victor Mature as Captain Cliff Brandon, Li Hua Li as Shu-Jen, and Ward Bond as Father Cairns. It combines elements of romance, war, and cultural exploration in a time of intense global uncertainty.

Captain Cliff Brandon is a jaded American pilot who operates a cargo plane during the Chinese Civil War. His life is a routine of flying dangerous missions, and his experiences have left him disillusioned and weary. Brandon's existence is one of a man battling his own demons as much as he battles the opposition during his flights. Victor Mature embodies Brandon with a rugged masculinity and emotional complexity that was a common characteristic of leading men during that film era.

During a routine stop in a small village, Brandon's life takes an unanticipated turn when he encounters Shu-Jen, a young Chinese woman played with grace and nuance by Li Hua Li. Shu-Jen is struggling with her own set of challenges, living in a war-torn country that is facing immense political change and social disruption. Despite the initial barriers of language and culture, an unlikely and tender relationship begins to blossom between the weary pilot and the resilient young woman.

Shu-Jen's character represents more than just a love interest for Brandon; she stands as a symbol of traditional Chinese values and the resilience of the human spirit. Li Hua Li's portrayal of Shu-Jen brings a sense of authenticity and depth to the film, capturing the audience’s attention and empathy. The dynamics between the two reveal not just a growing affection, but a meeting of two worlds, two very different experiences of life bonded by common emotional ground.

Adding to the narrative depth is Ward Bond's portrayal of Father Cairns, a missionary who has dedicated his life to helping the local people. His character serves as a moral anchor in the story, offering guidance to Brandon as he navigates his tumultuous relationship with Shu-Jen and the complex social environment they are enveloped in.

The film is less an epic war story than it is a detailed study of its characters, with the war providing a dramatic backdrop to the personal travails and growth of its protagonists. China Doll explores the human capacity to find love and connection in the most unlikely of circumstances. This is a world where contrasts are stark – between the loud chaos of aerial dogfights and the quiet, deep connection forming between two people from very different walks of life.

The cinematography captures both the beauty and the devastation of the Chinese landscape during wartime, from the ethereal mountains to the torn villages. The visual storytelling complements the emotional beats of the film, painting a picture of a world on the edge of a knife, where each moment is lived with a haunting intensity.

One of the most compelling aspects of China Doll is how the relationship between Brandon and Shu-Jen defies expectations. The two challenge and change each other in profound ways, elevating the narrative beyond a simple love story. The film delves into themes of honor, redemption, and the search for peace – both externally and within one's own soul.

Additionally, China Doll does not shy away from addressing the cultural and societal issues of its time. This includes the portrayal of interracial relationships, the impacts of colonialism, and the existential struggles inherent to a country divided by war. The film presents a complex and sometimes uncomfortable reflection of the period's sensibilities, which might be controversial by modern standards, but was part of Hollywood's slowly evolving approach to storytelling at the time.

Given its release date in the late 1950s, China Doll carefully toes the line between traditional Hollywood melodrama and the rising interest in more nuanced, character-driven stories that would come to define the next decade of cinema. This makes it a mild yet telling prelude to the more turbulent and revolutionary films of the '60s and '70s that would break even more boundaries.

China Doll is ultimately about the transformative power of love. It is about the choices we make and the compromises that often come hand in hand with those choices. Victor Mature’s Captain Brandon is a character caught between the call of duty and the quiet yearning for a different kind of life, epitomizing the classic essence of the reluctant hero whose journey is as much about internal battles as external ones.

As a product of its time, the film exemplifies the cinematic period's craftsmanship, passions, and storytelling conventions while touching on themes that are as timeless as they are universal, echoing humanity's constant search for connection, understanding, and the hope for a better tomorrow.

China Doll is a 1958 drama with a runtime of 1 hour and 39 minutes. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.0.

China Doll
Where to Watch China Doll
China Doll is available to watch, stream, download and buy on demand at Amazon Prime, Apple TV Channels, FuboTV, The Roku Channel, MGM+, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu. Some platforms allow you to rent China Doll for a limited time or purchase the movie and download it to your device.
  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 39 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    6.0  (559)