A couple friends recommended The Inn of the Sixth Happiness with Ingrid Bergman, so I finally made time to see it. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness satisfies in a way old films just do. It’s not perfect and some of the casting is dated (i.e. today, I think if a character was biracial, physically that would be more obvious. You wouldn’t cast a white European and just have him “act” Chinese or constantly tell us he was half-Chinese). Still the movie was made in 1958 so I cut the filmmakers some slack.
The story of Gladys Aylward, a British woman who’s rejected by a missionary society to go to China. Determined that her fate is in China, Gladys saves every penny and goes on her own. She finds her way to a tiny village in the country and works with a seasoned missionary. At first she muddles along making mistake after mistake. However, Gladys does learn and when her mentor dies she summons the grit to carry on. The local magistrate and a biracial military leader, who’s always about and played by an actor who doesn’t look even faintly Asian, urge her to pack up her things and leave. Gladys politely refuses. Soon the magistrate, who must appoint a foot inspector to see that the now illegal foot binding is stopped, gives her this job no one wants. When Gladys succeeds where all others have failed, she wins him over.
Challenge is constant in China and Gladys flourishes in spite of it. She wins the hearts of many and saves the lives of numerous children when the Japanese invade.
Inn of the Sixth Happiness lacks sophistication, but it delivers a satisfying story of bravery, pluck and spirit. Yes, it’s old fashioned, but it’s also a satisfying glimpse into our recent past and a look into the lives of dignified people striving against hardship without complaint. It is a “feel-good” movie, but in a satisfying way that might make us take a different look at our own times and ways.