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The Soong Sisters (film)

The Soong Sisters
DVD cover art
Traditional 宋家皇朝
Simplified 宋家皇朝
Mandarin Sòng Jiā Huáng Cháo
Cantonese Sung3 Gaa1 Wong4 Ciu4
Directed by Mabel Cheung
Produced by Raymond Chow
Ng See-yuen
Written by Alex Law
Starring Maggie Cheung
Michelle Yeoh
Vivian Wu
Music by Kitarō, Randy Miller
Cinematography Arthur Wong
Edited by Mei Feng
Distributed by Golden Harvest
Fuji Television Network
Pony Canyon
Mei Ah Entertainment
More Team International Ltd. Production
Release dates
  • 21 May 1997 (1997-05-21)
Running time
140 minutes
Country Hong Kong
Language Cantonese

The Soong Sisters is a 1997 Hong Kong historical drama film based on the lives of the Soong sisters from 1911 to 1949. The sisters married the most important historical figures—Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and K'ung Hsiang-hsi—in the founding of the Republic of China, making their family the focal point of every major decision made in modern Chinese history. Directed by Mabel Cheung, the film starred Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh and Vivian Wu as the sisters.


The film opens with a scene of the three Soong sisters in their childhood in the late Qing dynasty. Their father, Charlie Soong, demonstrates the wealth and prestige of his family by running one of the most successful printing businesses. The sisters later travel abroad to attend Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, United States.

Of the three sisters, the eldest, Soong Ai-ling, is the first to get married in 1914. Her husband is K'ung Hsiang-hsi, a wealthy banker.

Sun Yat-sen is a fugitive of the weakening Qing government and he lives in exile in Japan. He weds Soong Ching-ling, despite stern opposition from Charlie Soong. After the Qing dynasty is overthrown by the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, Sun becomes the Republic of China's first provisional president and founds the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party). Sun dies of liver cancer in 1925 and leaves his wife with his dying wish of Chinese reunification.

Chiang Kai-shek succeeds Sun Yat-sen as the new chief of the Kuomintang. In 1927, he marries Soong May-ling, the youngest of the three sisters. The Chiang couple oppose the Communist Party. The widowed Soong Ching-ling often quarrels with the family, accusing Chiang Kai-shek and his followers of persecuting the Communists and hindering the Chinese reunification. She leaves the Kuomintang and openly voices dissent against Chiang. The three sisters were hardly reunited again, except at their parents' deathbeds and on other special occasions.

While the Kuomintang and Communists are fighting with each other, the Empire of Japan takes advantage of the situation to invade China in the 1930s. In 1936, Chiang Kai-shek is kidnapped by Zhang Xueliang in the Xi'an Incident. He is forced to make peace with the Communists and focus on dealing with the Japanese invaders, leading to the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Chinese Civil War continues after the Japanese surrender in 1945 until around late 1949.

The film ends with actual footage of the Kuomintang relocating the government of the Republic of China to Taiwan, and a quick glimpse of Communist leader Mao Zedong proclaiming the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949 in Beijing.


Production note

While the focus is on the politics and political figures of Republican China, the film itself is heavily influenced by politics around the time it was produced. Most notably it was released in 1997, which coincided with the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong back to China. The desire to start relations on favorable grounds may have created some biased screenwriting for the film, though the perspective will vary depending on the audience. Lines such as "Before we were slaves of Old China. Now we are slaves of slaves of Old China" may also have multiple meanings. The attitude of the film seems to suggest that regardless of past differences due to conflict in the politics they espoused, there were strong ties that prevailed because of familial love.

Another feature worth noting is the characterisation of historical figures. Sun Yat-sen, Soong Ching-ling and Zhang Xueliang are portrayed as noble individuals while Chiang Kai-shek and Soong May-ling are portrayed less favorably. A reason for this may be because filming took place in Beijing, as China has rules regarding the portrayal of national enemies such as Chiang Kai-shek. In fact, director Mabel Cheung has stated that 14 minutes of the film were cut, which included scenes of tenderness between Chiang Kai-shek and Soong May-ling.

The film presents one interpretation of the 1936 Xi'an Incident as the actual event was never documented. Other pivotal moments include the founding of the Republic of China in 1911, the 1926-1927 Northern Expedition and the 1931 Mukden Incident that marked the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The film was not released in cinemas in the United States and United Kingdom.


The film has been characterised as having a feminist stance. Apart from the sisters, there were also their three brothers who were equally prominent in Republican China. None from the latter group appeared or was mentioned in the film. Scenes of bloodshed were toned down to appeal to a mass audience for educational purposes, and the film avoided describing the violence associated with that era.

Key communist figures such as Mao Zedong, Zhu De and Zhou Enlai never made any appearances in the film, even though historically they played significant roles in the Xi'an Incident. Instead the communists are portrayed as a whole entity without any personification. On most accounts, those who support the Communist Party were portrayed as victims at the mercy of Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang.

History inaccuracy

  • When the sisters are handing out military equipment to the Nationalist Revolutionary Army during a parade, some of the helmets appear to be American M1 Helmets, even though the M1 was not issued in the U.S. Army until 1941. The standard combat helmet worn by Chinese soldiers at that time was the German-made M35 Stahlhelm.

Awards and nominations

1997 Golden Horse Awards[1][2]

  • Won:
    • Best Art Direction (Eddie Ma)
    • Best Original Score (Kitarō and Randy Miller)
    • Best Sound Effects (Zeng Jingxiang)

1998 Hong Kong Film Awards


External links

vi:Ba chị em họ Tống