Here’s another love story where William Holden can’t keep his shirt on. Set in Hong Kong towards the end of the Chinese Civil War, Suyin (Jennifer Jones) is a Eurasian doctor and a widow. At a party she meets Mark (Holden), a foreign correspondent from America reporting on the War. Despite the fact that Mark is married and Suyin is happy with her life as it is, they fall in love. It seems there could be no greater happiness for them, but Mark’s job pulling him all over the world could spoil everything.
What makes this more interesting than just a love story is the conflict between Eastern and Western cultures. Suyin is a perfect example of the divide, being half European and half Chinese. She’s a doctor, a respected intellectual, yet she will still keep faith in old Chinese superstitions. There’s a fun scene where people make noise to scare clouds away from the moon and she might have too much faith in a later fortune teller scene. When she’s faced with the idea of romance with Mark, there is conflict between a reserved life alone in memory of her late husband or to start over with new passion.
We see other Eurasians who have assimilated so deeply into their European side, you can hardly see their Chinese heritage. Suzanne has dyed her hair blonde and takes pride in being mistaken for European. Suyin is a little heartbroken that someone can just do away with a whole half of their culture.
When Suyin goes back home to China for a family emergency, we see just how different the cultures are. She must ask her uncle, the head of the household, permission to do anything. And every little detail is done with such reserved tradition, we can tell Suyin is not quite used to it after so much time in Hong Kong.
When Mark and Suyin decide to tell marry and tell everyone about their love, the reception isn’t exactly joyous. Suyin’s Chinese family is not happy about bringing a foreigner into their family, but decide not to hold her back. Their European friends in Hong Kong also give Suyin fair warning about their cross-cultural relationship.
The romantic scenes between Holden and Jones are layered with cheesy mush. They lay out all these mushy lines, but they hardly feel real. It’s like they’re talking to a plank of wood, rather than a lover. Perhaps the rumors about their strained relationship off set contributed to this. There are stories about Jones chewing garlic before her romantic scenes with Holden. Trying to act in love through garlic breath might have put a damper on his lines.
In the end, this is an interesting story of culture and an eye-rolling romance. My biggest complaint isn’t about Holden’s shirtless strutting, but the fact that he shaved his chest for that beach scene and made us look at his hairy thigh in the foreground the whole time.
“Where’s your pride Suyin?”