Empire Of The Sun Starring: Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson Director: Steven Spielberg The film: Largely forgotten among Spielberg's blockbusting resume, Empire Of The Sun does deserve inclusion in any list of the director's finest movies. The epic tale of a small boy in a great war reflects Spielberg's enduring fascination with World War II, a theme he visited in Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan and the Raiders Of The Lost Ark trilogy. But this is no ordinary war movie. Based on J.G. Ballard's autobiographical best-seller, the film broke new ground, becoming the first major Hollywood studio to film in China. Centre stage is Jim Graham, superbly played by a 13-year-old Christian Bale (why this role didn't catapult his career is anybody's guess). In Japanese-occupied Shanghai, Jim and his well-to-do British parents - along with 30,000 Europeans and Americans - live a sheltered expat life behind the barbed-wired barriers of the International Settlement, a type of country within a country that was protected by international law and allowed Westerners to pursue their leisurely pursuits while about them occupiers repressed the Chinese. But on December 7, 1941, reality spilled onto their laps of luxury. As Pearl Harbour is attacked, the Japanese storm the enclave. Foreigners are rounded up for internment in one of the 13 camps in and around the city. In the crush, Jim loses his parents, and for the rest of the film we see his transformation from pampered British ruling-class child to street-wise roamer. Street life introduces Jim to the 'real' Shanghai. It also introduces him to two hard cases, merchant seamen Basie (John Malkovich) and Frank (Joe Pantoliano), with whom he bonds during their time in the camp. Although Oscar-nominated in six categories - including cinematography and for John Williams' original score - it failed to rake in big box-office dollars, grossing just US$22 million (HK$171 million) - less than any Spielberg film since 1974's The Sugarland Express, his first theatrical offering. But never judge a film by its takings (or its reviews - it was panned by the critics). The extras: Hoorah, extras that live up to the film. Check out side B for a 49-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, The China Odyssey: Empire Of The Sun, A Film By Steven Spielberg. Produced for television at the time of the film's release, the feature - narrated by Martin Sheen - parallels the history of the region with the making of the film. We see Spielberg in action, interacting with the actors and the vast throngs of extras (thousands were recruited for one scene where seven blocks of Shanghai's Bund were closed for filming). Also real are the members of the Chinese military, adding a touch of Hollywood glamour to their dull drills. Ballard - who plays a cameo in the film as a guest at a fancy dress party - also takes us on a trip down memory lane, sharing anecdotes about life in war-torn Shanghai.