review for The Soong Sisters on AllMovie

The Soong Sisters (1997)
by Genevieve Williams review

One should not mistake The Soong Sisters for a documentary -- neither is it historically accurate, nor will it make much sense to viewers who aren't already familiar with the period in China's history in which this film is set. Even audiences who do know their stuff when it comes to the revolution of 1911 and its consequences may need a scorecard in order to follow the shifts of alliance, as the events are observed primarily through the eyes of the three sisters of the title: Ai-ling (Michelle Yeoh, here billed as Michelle Khan), Ching-ling (Maggie Cheung), and May-ling (Vivian Wu). The three leading ladies are the main reason to see this film; all three positively glow onscreen, even Yeoh, who doesn't have as much to do as her co-stars. As the wives of Sun Yat-sen (Winston Chao) and Chiang Kai-shek (Hsing-Kuo Wu), respectively, Cheung and Wu are much more involved in the drama, and their relationship is alternately strengthened and strained by the ties between their powerful and influential husbands. Ultimately, it's the iconic imagery -- in which this film abounds -- which resonates, rather than the story itself; the uneven pacing and the characterization of the sisters as archetypes, rather than individuals, weaken the film as a whole. That's unfortunate, especially given the trouble the filmmakers went through to get this movie made; it may, however, encourage some viewers to read up on their Chinese history. The principal cast is uniformly good, including Wen Jiang as the Soong sisters' father.