Review: Empire of the Sun

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The Steven Spielberg directed film, Empire of the Sun, opened in limited release on this date in 1987. The drama starred Christian Bale and John Malkovich.


Jim (Christian Bale) is a privileged and wealthy young English boy living with his family in 1941 Shanghai. When the Japanese invade Shanghai, Jim is separated from his mother and father. He is then placed in an imprisonment camp and forced to grow up in ways he never imagined.


  • The performance by a very young Christian Bale is extraordinary. It is one of the most natural performances by a child actor I have ever seen. You can definitely tell in this film that Bale had the talent to become the A-list actor he is today.
  • The score by John Williams is one of the best of his long and historic career. The music is moving and fits perfectly within the film. William’s score is never jarring or overwhelming.
  • Empire of the Sun is one of the most visually beautiful films Spielberg has ever directed. The cinematography and locations are incredible. Spielberg utilizes the settings perfectly and the film often creates unbelievable imagery.


  • The film could have used 10-15 minutes trimmed out and it would have benefited from the shorter runtime. Spielberg becomes a little too indulgent at times with how long he lets scenes and moments run.
  • The film becomes maudlin in some scenes. Spielberg tries hard to find hope within the World War II story and at times he pushes too far.

In Closing:

Empire of the Sun is one of Spielberg’s most underrated, and often forgotten, films. It mixes drama, spectacle and humor in ways few other Spielberg projects ever have. The tone never gets too serious nor does it trivialize its subject matter either. Empire of the Sun is one of Steven Spielberg’s finest, and most balanced, achievements.

Rating: A-