Watch China Gate
- 1 hr 36 min
In 1957, the war in Indochina was in full swing, and Hollywood's fascination with Asian culture was at its peak. In this context comes "China Gate," a war film that follows a band of mercenaries in their attempt to blow up a Vietnamese fortress. The film, directed by Samuel Fuller and starring Gene Barry, Angie Dickinson, and Nat 'King' Cole, was an unqualified commercial success - but it was also a deeply controversial work that prompted accusations of racism and xenophobia.
At the heart of "China Gate" is a single individual, Captain Caumont (Barry), a former military man who now makes a living as a mercenary. A chance encounter with two former French colleagues sets him on a path towards a dangerous mission: to disable the fortress of Dien Bien Phu, which is holding Vietnamese prisoners. The mission is seemingly impossible, and Caumont puts together a band of unlikely allies to help him undertake it. Among them are a Communist partisan, a former Chinese soldier, and an American woman (Dickinson) with a mysterious past.
From the start, "China Gate" is a deeply cynical film. It portrays a world in which the only constants are death and greed, where every character is out for themselves and alliances are constantly shifting. The living conditions of the Vietnamese prisoners are depicted in a particularly brutal way, with the camera lingering on scenes of torture and deprivation.
But it's not just the film's pessimistic worldview that has drawn controversy - it's also the way it handles Asian culture. Many critics have accused "China Gate" of being a racist, Orientalist work. Some have pointed out that the film's Asian characters are portrayed as exotic and inscrutable, with little internal life of their own. Others have criticized the film's over-the-top violence and its apparent indifference to the suffering of the Vietnamese people.
Despite its flaws, however, "China Gate" remains a fascinating work. The film is shot in cinemascope, with a bright, colorful palette that contrasts sharply with its dark subject matter. The performances are uniformly excellent, particularly Dickinson, who brings a cool, calculating energy to her role as the mysterious woman. Cole, in his only major acting role, is also surprisingly effective as the mercenary who has grown disillusioned with war.
Ultimately, "China Gate" is a product of its time - a time when Hollywood was still grappling with the aftermath of World War II and the rise of Communism. It's a film that reflects the fears and prejudices of its era, but it's also a film that tries to grapple with larger questions about violence, power, and morality. It's not a perfect movie, and it's certainly not for everyone - but for those willing to engage with its complexities, "China Gate" is a fascinating and thought-provoking work.