Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Theme One: The Good Earth Review





I really enjoyed The Good Earth. I initially went into this movie strictly for reviewing purposes, but I was so quickly drawn into it. It was amazing!


The Good Earth--released in 1937--is based off of the 1931 novel of the same name, written by Pearl S. Buck. I haven't read the book, so I really can't say if the movie stayed true to it or not.





Oscar-winning and Austrian-born actor, Paul Muni and two-time Oscar-winning, German-born actress Luise Rainer lead the cast of this phenomenal movie. Paul Muni is probably most popular for his role as Tony Camonte in 1932's Scarface and for his winning role as Louis Pasteur in The Louis Pasteur Story. Luise Rainer won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in The Good Earth and the year before for The Great Ziegfeld. The movie also stars character actor Walter Connolly, vaudeville and film veteran Charley Grapewin, actress and dancer Tilly Losch, and pioneering actor Keye Luke.





DVD SUMMARY

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"First came marriage, an arranged union of peasant farmer Wang Lung (Muni) and kitchen slave O-Lan (Rainer). Then through poverty and wealth, family and betrayal, war and pestilence, came love."

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A very true and fitting description on the DVD case. As I stated before, I really enjoyed this film. I loved everything from the cinematography and effects, the story and its themes (greed, sexism, the presently relevant fight between rich and poor) and I enjoyed the ACTING. One could tell that the actors were dedicated to their characters and the film. I was also relieved that there was lack of stereotypes in this movie as well--which brings me to the one thing I didn't like about The Good Earth--the obvious. Let me first state, that I did go into this movie ready to despise every non-Chinese actor in it, but those stored up feelings quickly went away.

Anna May Wong


Now, things weren't so good that I forgot that these people were not Chinese or of Chinese descent, but the story overpowers the obvious miscasts. However, I still was bothered by Chinese/Chinese-American actors not being hired for these roles. Particularly Anna May Wong, who was the forerunner for the role of O-Lan. You can search "Anna May Wong The Good Earth" on Google for the upsetting, but not surprising details on that.

It is a shame that Old Hollywood (and Hollywood today even) didn't believe that Chinese/Chinese-American actors weren't good enough to play these characters--such beautifully written, non-stereotypical, and three-dimensional characters with flaws as well as strengths. Characters that were human and not just someone's sidekick. Of course, some Chinese actors (probably some Japanese and Korean actors as well) were thrown in as extras and cast in smaller roles--but I feel certain that had the main roles of Wang Lung, O-Lan, Wang Lung's uncle and father been cast with Chinese/Chinese-American actors (and still been majorly produced), the film would have made them world-renowned stars. Such a cast in such a well-received, big budget film would have broken so much ground for Hollywood actors of East Asian descent.

Keye Luke & Suzanna Kim, sometime during or after filming of The Good Earth.



I must note however, that the three prominent actors of Asian descent--Keye Luke ("Elder Son"), Roland Lui ("Younger Son"), and Hawaiian actress Suzanna Kim ("Little Fool") were excellent in their supporting roles as Wang Lung and O-Lan's children. Keye Luke really stood out to me, not just for his performance but for a more "current" reason. I am a big fan of Law and Order: SVU and I was immediately struck by the similar characteristics of Elder Son and Dr. George Huang--their demeanor, the way in which they spoke and gave advice to others. Not only that, Keye Luke favored B.D. Wong as well (or vice versa), but probably just in this movie alone. They even seem stand in the same way. With that said, if there is ever a Keye Luke biopic.....

Me: *plugs B.D. Wong*

Plus, I just recently discovered Keye Luke and his accomplishments for myself, so it was a delight to see a movie with him in it for the first time. I was even more delighted in how important he and his character would become.


****

The actual "look" of this film was just as intriguing as the performances given. The cinematography was AMAZING and well deserving of its Best Cinematography Oscar. I immediately noticed things like lighting techniques and loved the way the camera(s) showcased the land (Beijing) in all of its glory. I believe the audiences and the Academy were probably most intrigued by the famous "locusts scene" which I found amazing, yet terrifying and icky. The movie was in black-and-white, but the cinematographer and cameramen and special effects people made sure that it seemed to "pop" when needed.

With all of this said, I highly recommend that you watch this movie. It'll make you smile at certain points, make you angry at others, and it may even make you shed a tear or two. I was able to look past Anna May Wong being completely rejected for this film and I think you'd be able to do the same (throughout the movie anyway). I think it is safe to say that The Good Earth is one of Classic Hollywood's--no, Hollywood's greatest sagas EVER.





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