Director Richard L. Anderson’s comments on the film.
As a student in school, I always loved history. It was never just dusty old dates to me, but rather, it was the story of people’s lives, often doing amazing feats—just like in the movies. So when I was hired to write a script for a narrative film about the fascinating story of Allied POWs, who were imprisoned in Mukden, China by the Japanese during WWII, I jumped at the chance.
Since 2015 was the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, it was decided to first make a documentary version of this story to catch this historical date. Though we did not have a long schedule, producer Liu Yangeng expertly put together a team of Chinese filmmakers, headed by veteran director, Shen Haofang, to capture the actual stories of some of the men, who lived through this difficult time. We planned our project through email and Skype from both sides of the Pacific. Then, with the help of Ao and Pat Wang’s Mukden Remembrance Society, we were put in contact with former POWs still living in the U.S. I flew to Washington DC to see what film and photos I could find in the U.S. National Archives and there met Director Shen, face to face, along with his skilled team when they flew in from China.
What followed was a fascinating journey, as we all traveled a winding path across the U.S. to record the stories of this amazing group of men. They are all in their nineties and varied in the quality of their health, but they all still had an indomitable spirit. But our journey was not always a happy one. Some men, who were scheduled to speak with us, became ill and canceled, after we had traveled a long distance to meet them, and one passed away not long after we interviewed him. But this adversity only spurred me on that we must get their life stories on film since they are all disappearing quickly.
Director Shen, who speaks Japanese, interviewed a number for people in Japan, including a former male army nurse, who had worked at the Mukden camp, to get the other side of the story.
Then, inspired by these men’s stories, we edited historical film from that period with filmed recreations of their stories—many shot in the actual camp and its buildings (now a museum)—to tell the extraordinary tales of men pushed to their limits by cruel jailers and how they fought back in any way possible.
These men, often called “The Greatest Generation”, lived up to their reputation and revealed to us incredible stories of death, hardship, resistance, and their ultimate victory. I am proud to have met them and only hope that they, and their families, will enjoy this film as much as I do.
Richard L. Anderson