This is a great movie in many ways, and it's very watchable and entertaining. It stays lively, even the the soap-operaish sections. What struck me this time was the treatment of the Chinese.
The Chinese people feature prominently in the story. You know how it goes, the American planes fly straight over Japan and land in China, or crash land in the case of Van Johnson's plane. It's Van's movie, he gets most of the screen time. He gets some good lines too.
One of them is, "you're our kind of people!" spoken to the Chinese who are helping him and his friends.
And boy, do Van and the boys need help. They're a mess after the crash landing, and the Japanese Army is about a step and a half behind them. The Chinese in the movie are always admirable and sympathetically portrayed. They take huge chances to move the American flyers around, they expend valuable resources to treat them. Rather than complain, or look for a quid pro quo, they are only very grateful for what the Americans have done and willing to do what it takes to help in any way that they can.
"Our kind of people," indeed. And they are too. If you're lucky enough to know any Chinese Americans, you know that they make great neighbors, great co-workers and great friends. We're lucky to have them (speaking with my American hat on). Chinese people in China today seem to like us too. Many of them want to study in America; they try very hard to master English; they bend over backwards to do business in America; lots of them move to America every year. Oh, sure, they complain sometimes, but honestly, when they do complain they're right most of the time. I complain about America too. Sue me.
I'm not an expert on the history of Chinese American relations (Sino American relations?). It does seem to me though that we've gotten along very well over the centuries. Oh, I know, poor treatment of immigrants, a serious shoot-em-up in Korea, there've been some bumps in the road. But we did okay by them in trade all through the Nineteenth Century, and we acquitted ourselves pretty well in the Boxer rebellion by opposing territorial grabs by the European Imperial powers. All in all, I don't think any other member of the "Western Democracies" can claim to have had a more successful history together.
The war against Japan was probably the high point. I recently saw a documentary on Chinese language CCTV about a unit of the Chinese Army fighting out of an encirclement by the Japanese Army. In the English sub-titles I saw many references to the huge logistical support provided throughout the incident by American planes, including air-drops of food, water and ammunition under fire. It was plainly stated that the unit would have been destroyed or forced to surrender were it not for the American help. In the great black and white footage of the unit it was plainly visible that they were all wearing American gear, helmets etc, and they were armed with American weapons. The Chinese seem genuinely grateful for all of this, to this day. How many Americans remember that shared history?
"Our kind of people."