The 1943 “Lady from Chungking” brings back Anna May Wong to the world of low-budget wartime propaganda programmers (she was there a year earlier in “Bombs Over Burma”). This time around, she’s Madame Kwan Mei, a Chinese aristocrat working at slave labor with a village of coolies under Japanese military control. The coolies are actually guerrillas who are engaged in arms smuggling and aiding the Allied cause. Things get interesting when two American pilots are shot down by the Japanese Air Force. The Chinese save one pilot, but the Japanese capture one pilot and keep him imprisoned in the basement of a hotel where, perhaps a bit too conveniently, the major Japanese general in the region is staying. Madame Kwan Mei gets herself dolled up to become the general’s diversion, yet she is actually part of the plan to assassinate the general and mess up Japanese operations in the area.
None of this film makes much sense, especially the unexplained presence of a blonde who speaks like she’s from Brooklyn but vaguely suggests to be Russian. She’s played by Mae Clarke, and years earlier James Cagney shoved a grapefruit in her face in “Public Enemy.” But perhaps there was a quota in those days for at least one blonde per film, even if the film took place in the middle of wartime China.
Yet the film hits all of the right buttons for the era: there are plenty of insults aimed at the Japanese (the commanding officers are actually white actors in bad make-up), plus plenty of rah-rah speeches about winning the war (including a flag-waving oration given by a ghost!), and plus Anna May Wong wears gorgeous Chinese gowns while acting noble against the nasty Japanese. At 68 minutes, “Lady from Chungking” gets its point across quickly and painlessly.