THE year is 1937 and life couldn't get any better for the Graham's, a wealthy British family living in Shanghai, China. For 12-year old Jamie, it was attending fancy dress up parties and mingling with middle-class folks like his parents.
He indulged in fun stuff, playing around in the yard or pretending to be at war with an enemy until disaster struck. It ended all too soon when Japanese troops came crashing through the walls of Shanghai, separating families and killing those who opposed their presence. In an instant, Jamie's world is shattered - he loses his mother in a rushing crowd of people trying to get away from the heavy artillery being fired their way.
He goes back to the place where he hopes he's parents would come looking - home. With almost nothing eat or drink as the days and months go by, Jamie finds himself on the streets of Shanghai looking for his next meal until he runs into trouble with a delinquent. He is saved by an associate of Basie, played by John Malkovich, who sort of acts as a mini-mafia boss. He nicknames Jamie 'Jim' and forms a kind of bond with the little guy. They eventually end up in a Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center and later taken to the Suzhou Creek Internment Camp.
From here on out, it's a life of struggle for little Jimmy, played by Christian Bale in his prime. I didn't realise Bale was little Jim until the ending credits nor did I realise that it was a Steven Spielberg production - no wonder the film portrayed such an extensive overview of life in the concentration camps for European folks - you see people's health deteriorating, their state of mind questionable, forced to live in less than favourable conditions - one can only imagine the life of prisoners of war during this era.
The storyline is very educational and inspiring - in a sense that Jimmy's sense of survival and compassion got him through tough times. Although there were times during the scene where I'd have really liked to give him a nudge or two for being a little irritating twit, but then again, a 12-year old boy in that kind of situation, how else should he be? There are certain elements of the film that speak of life values - one scene where his neighbour Mrs Victor (Miranda Richardson) was on her last breath, and he lay next to her and told her to pretend she's asleep. In that final moment, he was able to help her accept death in peace - it was the least he could do since Mrs Victor and her husband looked out for him at the concentration camp.
In the midst of all these challenges, Jimmy never let go of who or where he came from.
He carried with him a brown-leathered suitcase with pictures of his childhood and his parents. I think as the years passed until the end of the Second World War in 1945, Jim grew out of the fantasy that he would be reunited with his parents when he threw his suitcase into the sea.
Was it a sign that he gave up on being found or was it a sign to move on and face new challenges ahead? Whatever the reason, Jim soon found himself bunched up with other British children who were also taken as prisoners of war. They kept to one side of a big room while their parents stood opposite with teary eyes trying to identify their lost child.
At first glance, Jamie's parents walked right past him until his mother stopped to face him directly. It must have been some kind of maternal instinct. He had grown out of his 12-year old body and into a young teen but he remained motion and expressionless when they hugged him and called out his name. It was this scene that showed after all that had happened, Jamie finally realised he was at home where he finally belonged.
For some interesting facts, the film was based on J. G. Ballard's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Although it earned more than cost of production, the film is noted to have been one of Spielberg's not so great hits. Nevertheless, it's worth watching if you're ever short of an educational experience.