Note: After reading this interview with Stephen Shin, the author invites you to learn more about “Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing,” a new book that compares the writings of C. S. Lewis with the music of U2 in a life-changing journey through grief, joy, and longing for God. Available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
Ten years is a long time to work on anything. Just ask Stephen Shin, the Hong Kong-based co-director of the new film On Wings of Eagles, starring Joseph Fiennes as Olympic runner Eric Liddell–yes, that Eric Liddell, the Christian runner depicted in the legendary film “Chariots of Fire.” This film is the unofficial sequel to “Chariots of Fire,” because it tells the story of what happened to Eric after the events seen in “Chariots of Fire” when he goes to China to do missionary work. The film releases in theaters this weekend, Nov. 3, 2017.
And it is a must-see, especially if you’re a fan of “Chariots of Fire.” Even if you’re not religious but you loved “Chariots of Fire,” you will want to see “On Wings of Eagles.” It’s not really a faith-based film and it’s by no means preachy. It is simply a phenomenal piece of filmmaking with a deeply moving story, and Joseph Fiennes and the cast are remarkable. Fiennes as Liddell is especially a treat to watch. His performance is one of his best.
I had the chance to speak with the film’s co-director Stephen Shin, who is a fervent Christian and a big fan of Eric Liddell, over the phone about the film:
What interested you in doing this story about Eric Liddell?
The idea came 10 years ago while I was preparing Olympic Games in China for Beijing and someone told me about Olympic champion Eric Liddell that he died in China. So I wondered why an Olympic champion died in China so they told me the story about Eric Liddell, that he was born in Tientsin in China to missionaries and that after he won the Olympic championship he wanted to go back to China to continue his missionary work, and then he died in China and that he had given up his chance [to escape during the war] to other people so they could be safe. His love was so great and impressed me so much. I met Eric Liddell’s family especially his daughter in Canada and also other parishioners who [knew Eric Liddell] who are still alive, and all of them told me a very impressive story and how they were influenced by Eric Liddell in the camp [the detention camp depicted in the film] and how he was a great man. It was a very good story for me to make a movie. I also spent 10 years to complete it, to raise money, by the grace of God, and now it can finally be shown in North America, and I hope people will enjoy it.
You spent 10 years, wow! [laughs]
[Stephen Shin laughs] It’s very expensive to make a movie! It is very expensive. Nowadays many people only go to the movies for [superficial] entertainment with so many super heroes and superficial Hollywood themes. It’s not good for people, especially for the younger generation, so I wanted to do something different. I hope it works, I’ve tried my best and with the help of the Holy Spirit I want to share the message of this film, especially in China and of course in North America and to everyone in the world. I want everyone, especially young people, to see Eric Liddell and know more about him because he’s very famous from the movie “Chariots of Fire,” but I want people to know more about his story.
Did you get discouraged during those 10 years trying to get the movie financed and released?
I praise God! So many friends supported me, and the message was so encouraging that it motivated me. I wanted to tell people about a great man, and even if someone who sees it is not a Christian, it will inspire them, this story of a very great man. It’s all from God, it’s a gift from God to me. And for the audience I hope they will be able to see the faith and the love of God through the movie.
Did you face censorship challenges from China?
China is still a Communist Party country and they don’t believe in God, but the country in general is quite open and people can have their right to have their beliefs. This is what allowed us to make the movie but it is still controlled and it is a grey area. But a movie can have the cross, a missionary and churches in the movie, but filmmakers are not allowed to force people and convince people to believe or accept a religious belief. But it [worked out] for me this time and we didn’t have any objections to prohibit me from putting it in my movie. And also we got much support from local people and even from the government because we were able to get many good locations and support from the government to do my shooting in China.