"China Cry," based on a true story, is very old-fashioned in its approach, with music that swells dramatically at appropriate moments and simple distinctions between the good guys and the bad guys.
Yet it is so sincere and well-played, and the lead character is so compelling, it's impossible not to be swept up in this passionate story of star-crossed lovers separated by an oppressive society."China Cry" is also an unabashedly pro-Christianity film - which should come as no surprise since it was financed by a Christian organization, the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Based on the early life experiences of Nora Lam, born Sung Neng Yee, and set primarily in the 1950s, the film begins with Sung's privileged youth in China just as the Japanese invaded during World War II. It was an event that signaled change; life in China would never again be the same.
When she reaches 18, Sung is excited about the "New China," under a communist regime that promises a better life for all and a classless equality. At the same time she finds romance with a young man from Hong Kong who is going to her school.
But she is upset to see her father, a doctor, singled out as an example of the privileged class that must be taken down a notch - especially when he is forced to scrub floors in the hospital where he once administered to patients. Meanwhile, her mother is becoming more fragile and submissive.
Eventually, Sung gets her law degree, marries the man she loves and becomes pregnant. In her ninth month, just as she is to begin a teaching position, the authorities decide to interrogate her, which leads to a series of beatings as she is forced to write an autobiography of her privileged past, to include her beliefs in Christianity.
The irony is that despite her having attended a Presbyterian school as a child, she hasn't really thought about Christianity. But being forced to come to terms with her beliefs on paper, instead of breaking her, begins to build her faith.
In the film's centerpiece - and arguably its most dramatic moment - Sung is about to be executed when a miracle occurs, sparing her life and giving her a single-minded determination to get her family out of Red China.
The rest of the film documents her efforts in that regard, in particular her trials in a forced-labor camp where she manages to survive against the odds while again late in pregnancy.
"Cry China" is every bit as melodramatic as it sounds, but writer-director James F. Collier, who also did several films for Billy Graham's now defunct movie production company ("Joni," "The Hiding Place," "The Prodigal"), knows how to push the cinematic buttons and he's at the peak of his form here.
Collier shot most of his authentic-looking location scenes in Hong Kong and his cast is first rate, ranging from veteran actors James Shi-geta and France Nuyen as Sung's parents to Russell Wong as her husband. Philip Tan is also good as Sung's chief interrogator.
But it is Julia Nickson-Soul, as Sung, who brings it all together. With a lesser actress in the lead this would doubtless be a very superficial work, but Nickson-Soul is excellent, bringing depth and spark to a well-written character.
"Cry China" is rated PG-13 for violence, some of it rather harrowing as the pregnant Sung is beaten by guards, though in all a PG rating would not seem out of order here.