Thursday Night Movie Club
High Road to China
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Release Date: 21 April 1983

Director: Brian G. Hutton
Tom Selleck
Bess Armstrong
Jack Weston
Wilford Brimley
Robert Morley
Brian Blessed
Cassandra Gava
Michael Sheard
Lynda La Plante
Timothy Carlton
Shayur Mehta
Terry Richards
Jeremy Child
Peter Llewellyn Williams
Dino Shafeek
Patrick O' Malley
Bradley Tozer
Suleman Khan
Franjten Khan
High Road to China movie poster 1 High Road to China movie poster 2 High Road to China movie poster 3
Tom Selleck and Bess Armstrong in High Road to ChinaHigh Road to China is a very good period-piece action film. The movie is marred by two elements. High Road to China is the first movie of this genre after Stephen Spielberg's superior Raiders of the Lost Ark. Any comparisons between these movies is unfair. The other factor is Tom Selleck and Bess Armstrong are having so much fun making this movie that they do not get really mad at each other.

During the Roaring Twenties, rich, spoiled socialite Eve Tozer (Bess Armstrong) faces a serious problem. She receives news that her father's business partner Bentik (Robert Morley) has filed court documents to declared Eve's missing father as legally dead. Eve has a limited window to prove her father Bradley Tozer (Wilford Brimley) is still alive or risk losing her share of the lucrative company's profits.

Flying scene from High Road to ChinaThe greedy Bentik is not about to allow Eve to find her father. His first attempt to murder her failed. He cannot let Eve live at any cost!

Bradley Tozer's last known location was China. The quickest way to China is by air plane. Eve tracks down Patrick O'Malley (Tom Selleck), a bozing, Amerian, ex-WWI ace fighter pilot. O'Malley is down on his luck. He and his mechanic Struts (Jack Weston) are stuck in England. They eke out a living giving flying lessons to rich women. O'Malley drinks away the profits after seducing the women.

Eve comes as a savior to Struts. She has enough money to get O'Malley and himself back to the States. O'Malley likes the idea of the money but does not want Eve on the journey. Eve is an experienced pilot. She rents both of O'Malley's planes. She will pay for all of the gas, food and O'Malley's services. O'Malley likes the money, but this is a man's world. He does not like taking orders from a woman... a spoiled, rich one at that!

Brian Blessed as Suleman Khan in High Road to ChinaO'Malley, Struts and Eve barely get the planes off the ground with Bentik's men firing at them as they leave. O'Malley jokes that the men were probably jealous husbands. The conflict between O'Malley and Eve starts from their first meeting. Eve decides not to tell O'Malley the whole truth because she needs him. He would undoubtedly decline the job.

The highlights of the film are the fantastic cinematography and the sound track. Cinematographer Ronnie Taylor (Ghandi) photographs some exotic locations and some beautiful aerials. Some of the shots are breathtaking: North Africa, Afghanistan, crossing the Himalayas and China. John Barry composes one of his best film scores. The music soars with the planes, ramps up during the battle scenes, and becomes tender and loving as the love between O'Malley and Eve grows, despite their outward appearances.

Tom Selleck, Bess Armstrong and Jack Weston in High Road to ChinaTom Selleck is a very good yet underrated actor. Selleck can give the late Danny Kaye a run for his money on how quickly his facial expressions change. Selleck goes from grave concern, to rage, to relief, and finally to caring and loving all in a 15 second span. Other times, Selleck ranges from rage, to frustration, to a helpless shrug when he realizes Eve is right.

Selleck's best scene comes when he is retelling the story of O'Malley becoming an ace pilot. To become an ace, a fighter pilot must shoot down 5 enemy air planes. O'Malley is haunted by his success. Being an ace is a great honor. Selleck's whole demeanor changes from excitedly reliving his exploits to the grim realization that most of the enemy pilots he shot down were only boys. O'Malley is an ace for shooting "fish in a barrel". He is not proud of this fact.

Bess Armstrong is wonderful. Armstrong plays Eve with all the bubbly joy of a spoiled socialite used to living the highlife. She spends her nights enjoying good food, good drink, good friends, grand parties, and the hoi-ploi of high society. The Roaring Twenties version of Paris Hilton. Eve starts out on her mission for pure greed. She does not want to be thrown to the gutter. O'Malley is also in it for the money.

Flying scene from High Road to ChinaThen Eve meets O'Malley. O'Malley is already in the gutter but he isn't as depressed as she thinks he should be. O'Malley does not look too far beyond his nose. He wants to get back to the States but, most importantly, he is his own boss. He answers to himself. Struts works for him. O'Malley is the bread-winner in this partnership. O'Malley is in for a shock. Eve is as much of a free spirit as he is. They are both accustomed to getting their way. In a way, they are both spoiled.

The main suplot of High Road to China is, unknown to the both, O'Malley and Eve end up taking a different road from the planned journey they started. Even though they both abhorr the idea, O'Malley and Eve slowly realize any successful relationship, whether business or personal, is based on give-and-take, mutual respect and a willingness to actually listen and understand what the other is saying.

O'Malley learns a painful lesson, as does Eve, while visiting the camp of Afghan warlord Suleman Khan (Brian Blessed). In this society, it is a man's world. The men talk, the women serve. Eve breaks protocol and asks Khan about her father. Khan is outraged. O'Malley has no choice but to hit Eve to silence her. Later in their tent, Eve is outraged.

Flying scene from High Road to ChinaSelleck is great here. O'Malley is so incenced he is on the verge of slapping Eve again. O'Malley is between a rock and a hard place. He had to do what he did. He had no choice. O'Malley cannot apologize to Eve for hitting her. This would mean he cares about Eve. He would be doomed. Selleck makes it clear O'Malley is none to happy having struck Eve. Only the intervention of Alessa (Cassandra Gavra) calms Eve.

High Road to China is a great, g-rated, fun action film. There are surprises at every turn. For every dastardly deed, there is someone who shows kindness and sacrifice. Eve's biggest surprise is when her father refuses to leave a small village in China undefended from a brutal warlord. O'Malley and Eve start their journey as spoiled brats. As the movie progresses, Eve slowly comes to the conclusion that her father might really be dead and she wasted her life not knowing who her father really is. O'Malley just wants to be paid handsomely. To his surprise, he begins to care for Eve as he discovers her bravado exterior masks a very vulnerable, frightened girl who matures before his eyes.

High Road to China is great fun. There is plenty of action, danger, intrugue and tenderness. The cinematography is wonderful. The music soars right up there in the clouds. The only hinderance in the film is that all of the actors appear to be having way too much fun making the film. This film is a fun ride. Climb onboard your Sopwith Camel and have a blast!