China Cry (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Sung Neng Yee was glad when the Chinese Communists rose to power in her homeland to drive out the occupying Japanese, but she never anticipated the ultimate consequences this would cause. First, it cost her father his wealth and respect as a successful doctor, and then, the Communists began to tighten their grip on every aspect of Chinese life. However, she and her fellow people adjusted and went forward. Moreover, after beginning a family of her own, Sung Yeng Nee was accused of consorting with Westernizers and Christians. In the darkest moment of her life, she reached out to the God she had always shunned for the help only He could give her.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 1990s production, China Cry has a handful of concerns with it, such as a loud, outdated soundtrack and odd soft lighting at times. Video quality is also sometimes blurry even though the camera work is overall fine, including good establishing shots. For the most part, audio quality is average, and the sets, locations, and props are very realistic, culturally accurate, and historically appropriate. Although the film overall seems outdated and has a lot of quick cuts and awkward transitions due to time jumps in the plot, the production does enough to achieve an average rating, especially considering the time period it was made in.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Right out of the gate, unnecessary narration tends to hurt the plot development, but once it ceases, things begin to unfold naturally without hindrances even though the narration does pop up here and there afterward. Had more substantial and qualitative flashbacks been employed to replace the narration, this plot would have been even better. This would have better helped to bridge the large time jumps throughout the story (non-linear plot structure is the only way to effectively handle lots of content), yet on its face, this narrative is still engaging and very intriguing due to the obscurely interesting portions of history it explores. Key themes are subtly introduced in order to let the character feel more authentic and real than they otherwise would be; the writers definitely did a good job at presenting people at face value rather than trying to push messages via strawmen. Even still, there are some lagging scenes that could have been better re-purposed to improve character growth even more, especially since the second half of the story tends to rush through a lot of content that would have been better explored slowly. This is why a non-linear plot style centered around the weak explanation for the narration would have been appropriate. In the end, China Cry still packs a very powerful message that’s still relevant for all Christians today. It’s too bad that’s is hidden behind poorly designed storytelling, but this true account is nonetheless engaging for all audiences.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Although many of the cast members tend to be dramatically stiff, the lead actress and lead actor are standouts for their comfortably real line delivery and believable emotions. Others tend to lack natural flair for acting, but it’s refreshing to see a culturally authentic cast. Costuming also reflects this commitment to cultural accuracy. In the end, the acting improves enough by the second half of the movie, and the lead acting carries it most of the way.

Conclusion

China Cry definitely deserves a remake, possibly in a miniseries form to further explore alternate subplots and to present the story in a more comprehensive and non-linear fashion. In the end, this film was made very early on in Christian entertainment, but it was onto something we don’t see in many newer movies: a poignant message about relying on God during difficult times and witnessing His miraculous intervention. Thus, many audiences will enjoy this movie, and maybe, new film makers will be inspired to try something outside the norm.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Wrestling With God [1990] (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Alexander Campbell was a religious radical in a day when man was seeking to corrupt the true theology of Jesus Christ, so he left Catholic Ireland for religious freedom in America.  However, he finds the same doctrinal problems when he enters the New World, but at the same time, he also meets like-minded people who want to follow the true Gospel and worship God freely without man’s intervention.  Alexander eventually settles down to raise a family, and he faces many new challenges along the way.  Ultimately, he will have to discover God beyond theology and doctrine and meet Him for himself.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a 1990s production, Wrestling With God is understandably archaic, which is evidenced by one too many dark scenes and grainy video quality.  However, camera work is okay, and there is obviously a lot of attention to detail in this production as its sets, locations, and props reflect a commitment to historical and cultural authenticity.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, however, and the editing is quite choppy, including too many long, lagging scenes and too many leaps in time.  Overall, due to the issues that add up and the attempts at authenticity, this production is just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While this obscure true story is a bit out of left field to choose for the film, the historical account is slightly interesting, even if it is mostly based on niche theological debates that will likely isolate and bore most audiences.  It is difficult to see the wide appeal of this concept, especially since it doesn’t hold the attention very well at all.  While there is potential here for real historical characters to come to life, this storyline is a bit too long to cram into less than two hours, and the large time jumps short-circuit any ability to get to know these characters as people.  The inconsistent story presentation, the expository dialogue, and the boring conversations about theological eccentricities also hurt the opportunity to develop authentic and relatable characters.  As a whole, historical accounts are typically better than your run-of-the-mill inspirational fodder, but Wrestling With God is just a bit too boring to work out.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Accompanying this 1990s production is 1990s-style acting, which tends to be too theatrical and overly practiced.  While the costuming and accents are historically authentic, the emotional performances are not entirely convincing, and this amateur cast could use a bit more coaching.  However, this area is not all bad, which make this section basically average.

Conclusion

The creators of this older film probably meant well in making it, but they might should have considered using a more recognizable and engaging historical account to make into a movie.  The theological debates encapsulated in this tale might be consequential and important to some people, but it will be lost on most audiences because it is more important to depict real people experiencing a real God Who is truly beyond theology and man-crafted doctrines.  This would be a worthwhile message to share in movie form and one that would have a larger impact.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Lost in Silver Canyon (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While on their way to Christian camp, Joe and Vanessa find themselves accidentally left behind in a western ghost town exhibit.  Thus, they decide to explore the area around them, but they find themselves ‘trapped’ in a mine.  An old prospector with no prospects ‘rescues’ them and proceeds to mime the story of the prodigal son for them.  All the while, the obnoxious Sam Starr (brother of Johnny Starr) is searching for the old prospector so he can tell him something.  In this Bob Jones-style story from Mr. Button Family Video, everyone can learn a forceful Bible lesson.

 

Production Quality (-1 points)

As a 1990s production, it’s expected to be archaic, but not this bad.  Not even The Printing (same year) was this bad.  Video quality is blurry and outside shots are glaring.  Inside shots have poor lighting and camera work is mostly stationary.  Audio quality is very poor as a lot of it is overdubbed.  The soundtrack is annoying and the constant juvenile sound effects, especially those punctuating Sam Starr, are enough to drive a person mad.  Sets, locations, and props are extremely cheap and limited.  Furthermore, there is editing to speak of.  Essentially, this production warrants negative points due to its obnoxious nature, especially when it comes to sound effects and all things Sam Starr.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Sam Starr is a bumbling, fumbling complete idiot of a character who is funny for all the wrong reasons and seems like he escaped from the cast of The Rev.  His movements can’t be accomplished without weird grunting, stupid sound effects, and constantly scattering of paraphernalia.  Besides his sideshow, the other characters stepped right out of a Bob Jones\Unusual Films movie like The Treasure Map, Appalachian Trial, or Project Dinosaur.  There are also some shades of Pamela’s Prayer here. The Christian message presented is cringeworthy and full of patriarchy.  Besides all of this, there is basically no story to speak of here as a majority of the runtime is filled with home video footage of a vacation to a western ghost town and a lot of forceful ‘Bible lessons’.  There is little to no purpose in this nonsense, and it’s actually very annoying, thus landing it the rare award of having negative points.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

One has to question if some of these cast members should have been around children due to their erratic and disturbing behavior, especially the idiot who played Sam Starr.  Even if this sideshow is supposed to be funny, it’s only funny because it’s so pathetically absurd.  Other cast members, as previously mentioned, are just on loan from Bob Jones and contribute nothing good except driving home Christian stereotypes.  Thus, this is another negative section.

Conclusion

Lost in Silver Canyon joins the ranks of those Christian films that are so offensive in their presentation that they warrant negative points.  The only reason to watch this film is to get a good laugh at the expense of Sam Starr, but otherwise it’s another total embarrassment to Christian film.  This is how people think Christians act, and sometimes they aren’t very far off.  Hopefully films like these will serve as motivation to make better ones so that any negative movies will be totally forgotten.

 

Final Rating: -3 out of 10 points

 

The Printing [1990] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When the Communists and the KGB had a vice grip on Russia, they did everything they could do to stamp out any form of Christianity that did not adhere to their standards.  But no matter how hard they tried to control everything, even the churches, they could not control a secret group of underground Christians who was committed to printing the true words of a Bible on their secret printing press.  The Word of God spread regardless of government control—these historical events are depicted in this film.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As a film from 1990, it’s clear that compared to others films in the time frame, a lot of money was put into The Printing, even though it still looks extremely archaic.  Video quality is sometimes blurry, but camera work is good.  Sets and locations are pretty good considering the limited budget.  Audio quality is inconsistent throughout, and the soundtrack is too dramatic.  However, some action scenes are actually filmed pretty well.  As usual, editing is fairly poor as the film slogs on for over two hours.  But in the end, for the early 90s, this was probably as good as it was going to get in independent film making.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though it’s based on interesting historical events and intriguing ideas, The Printing is far too long, boring, and protracted to be even remotely interesting.  There are far too many wasted sequences and long, drawn-out scenes.  Dialogue is too robotic, thus making stiff and wooden characters.  The premise is somewhat realistic, yet it is overly dramatic.  In contrast to the Communist propaganda depicted, The Printing borderlines on some capitalistic propaganda of its own.  Overall, the idea behind the film has potential, but the presentation is awful.  Thus, it would be worth a remake one day.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

As their casting pool was severely limited to those associated with Bob Jones University, they were unsuccessful in casting many culturally correct actors and actresses.  Some the attempts at faking Russian accents are laughable.  Though the costuming is culturally correct, most of the performances are too theatrical and dramatic.  Emotions are not very believable.  Thus, this is a disappointing section.

Conclusion

It is commendable to make this ambitious of an independent film in the early 1990s, and one can rarely go wrong with a good historical film.  Unfortunately, the presentation of The Printing is too drab and boring to reach any audiences.  It might be interesting to history enthusiasts, but it has no wide appeal.  This film, however, is better than other disasters produced by this studio (The Treasure Map, Project Dinosaur, and Appalachian Trial), but it still doesn’t make the mark.  Perhaps someone will make a better version of this film one day.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points