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The Bridge on the River Kwai
Year:
1957
Country:
USA, UK
Genre:
Drama, Adventure, War
IMDB rating:
8.3
Director:
David Lean
William Holden as Shears
Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson
Jack Hawkins as Major Warden
Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito
James Donald as Major Clipton
Geoffrey Horne as Lieutenant Joyce
André Morell as Colonel Green (as Andre Morell)
Peter Williams as Captain Reeves
John Boxer as Major Hughes
Percy Herbert as Grogan
Ann Sears as Nurse
Heihachiro Okawa as Captain Kanematsu (as Henry Okawa)
Keiichirô Katsumoto as Lieutenant Miura (as K. Katsumoto)
Storyline: The film deals with the situation of British prisoners of war during World War II who are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway. Their instinct is to sabotage the bridge but, under the leadership of Colonel Nicholson, they are persuaded that the bridge should be constructed as a symbol of British morale, spirit and dignity in adverse circumstances. At first, the prisoners admire Nicholson when he bravely endures torture rather than compromise his principles for the benefit of the Japanese commandant Saito. He is an honorable but arrogant man, who is slowly revealed to be a deluded obsessive. He convinces himself that the bridge is a monument to British character, but actually is a monument to himself, and his insistence on its construction becomes a subtle form of collaboration with the enemy. Unknown to him, the Allies have sent a mission into the jungle, led by Warden and an American, Shears, to blow up the bridge.
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Reviews
one of the quintessential POW/WW2 movies, with unforgettable characterizations
What does it mean to be a solider versus a prisoner? How about the meaning of a Colonel's duty, pride, and everything in a male-centric view in times of war? And really, what everything seems to come down to- in the case of The Bridge on the River Kwai- is that priorities end up being eschewed with moral ambiguity and heroism in the oddest circumstances. David's Lean's masterpiece takes a compelling look at men who wont give in, and when they do they somehow lose a piece of themselves in the process- a big part really depending on point of view &/or country- and how being ultra-tough and stubborn and headstrong may get you killed for the wrong reasons. Colonel Nicholson (Sir Alec Guiness in a very well deserved Oscar winning turn) and Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa, who is actually a really great actor as well) both don't want to give in when Nicholson arrives at Saito's camp, and refuses adamantly to work alongside the fellow soldiers on the bridge- he sees it's against the Geneva conventions, and makes it a point of principle not to do it. He's put away for a while, but then finally Saito can't take the stubbornness any more- as he knows he's been evenly matched perhaps- and has no choice (ala seppuku if not achieved) but to let him direct the building of the bridge. But what this turns into for Nicholson, as a further elongation of the principle of the matter for his men and the situation, into a really mad situation.

So in this there is also the other main section of the story, where the idea of what it is to have principles starts to pick up via 'Major' Shears (William Holden, the conventional 'star' who grows more interesting in the second half). He's not really a major, but he's done in a quasi-cowardly quasi-pragmatic move to take a major's place when taken prisoner in the camp. When he achieves escape, however, he's caught between a rock and a hard place when he has to go with Major Warden (also a headstrong, 'war is a game' character played by Jack Hawkins), otherwise he'll be dishonorably discharged as an impersonator, already with a criminal record. There's a pivotal scene when he and Warden are on their way to the bridge, which undercuts the whole bond between Nicholson and Saito, when Warden wants to be left for dead after injuring his foot. Does it make more sense to hold one's own sense of duty to a mission, or to one's self, or not? What becomes Shears's gain- a sense of obligation as opposed to being a 'have no choice' scenario- becomes Nicholson's loss. The bridge to Nicholson becomes something abstracted from what is really going on, and his original ideal of not giving in to being a prisoner becomes muddled, leading up to that incredibly tense, maddening climax where his final words punctuate it all: "what have I done?"

But it's not all completely a serious endeavor, and what's so brilliant about Lean's approach to Boulle's material is that it's also a grand old entertainment, where the characters are rich and fully engrossing (albeit with Shears's/Holden given an obligatory "I'm the star" scene with a blond on a beach that seems from a different movie), and with a scope and direction that is just as ambitious in its own right as Lawrence of Arabia. Lean occasionally lets some visual metaphors in that do work very well (the huge flock of birds flying around, and the bridge itself being a metaphor in itself of colonial interests). But for the most part he lets the atmosphere of a war-time adventure work by itself, with the cinematography and editing sometimes working in ultra-suspenseful ways (particularly with the setting up of the wires around the bridge, and 'go time'), and in a traditional way of solid storytelling. He lets the themes work through the characters, which gives the actors a lot more to work with than with pushing it down the viewer's throat. There's a sense that the boundaries of the typical POW/war movie, particularly from a British viewpoint, are stretched and expanded, questioning the means of the main characters while still showing them, in spurts, to have great merit.

And if for nothing else, the acting's really what stands out, especially in the subtle notes and turns that seem over-the-top like with Hayakawa but are really nuanced too (he, especially, has a crux to deal with in suddenly losing his own sense of duty to country as a Brit takes over his job essentially). Guiness, meanwhile, gives something extraordinary in practically every scene, when he's either reserved or having to finally break down and show emotion (it's not the first bridge he's over-seen, hence the extra amount of pride that it'll be a "British-built" bridge). As Shears notes, there's something dangerous to a man like Nicholson who wont give in, and Guiness undercuts this dangerous quality with the elegance that he's perfect at, and then lets it become full-circle when he meets his all-too-ironic end. Holden, by the way, is also quite good here, if sort of given the almost thankless role of the star who's typically cocky, and only when finally on the mission is there some opening up in relation to Hawkins's Warden; his speech to Warden is especially engrossing.

Featuring the catchiest of all whistling in the movies, and a dynamite cast and graceful and distinctively superlative directorial vision, this is one of those rare films about war where character takes precedence over action (compared to the common war movies of the period, it's only sporadic and more suggestive in the violence), not to mention in big-budget splendor, and ends up truly memorable.
2007-01-27
A Flawless Piece of Cinema History!
The Bridge on River Kwai is another example of great filmmaking from the Golden Age of Cinema. I shouldn't be surprised with the pedigree of the cast and that the director is the renowned David Lean. The film may approach three hours, but it a work of legacy and one of the greatest war films ever made. This film features underlying drama and some spectacular battle scenes towards the end. Also the ruthless treatment of the POW camp towards the British colonel was hard to watch, but it was fitting towards how the Axis powers actually treated the Allies.

David Lean's film is about a British colonel named Nicholson who he and his men were captured by the Japanese. After enduring endless amounts of torture, Nicholson is able to convince the commander of the camp, Saito to allow him to help design the bridge they are tasked to building. However, the Allies hatch a plot, whom Nicholson is completely oblivious of, to destroy the bridge.

If you want fine acting, you have come to the right place. Alec Guinness truly absorbs himself into the role of Nicholson and we see his acting ability fly high as Nicholson endures Japanese brutality to convince them to do what he wants. Sessue Hayakawa as Saito was indeed very good in his role as we see personal greed overcome his character. William Holden was excellent and does not hold back as the sarcastic American soldier, Shears. We also get a strong performance from Jack Hawkins as Major Warden, the man who knows his explosives.

Overall, The Bridge on River Kwai is probably one of the top ten films ever made. Any young person should view this film, as this epic holds up very well. It may be historical fiction, but it does have its place in history. This is the kind of film David Lean knows how to make, just like his other films like Lawrence of Arabia. Those who watch this film for the first time will be rewarded with such rich cinema Everything about the film: the acting, directing, cinematography, score, and plot just screams perfection. One of the greatest war films ever made.

My Grade: A+
2015-02-26
So Historically Incorrect It's Distasteful
Bridge On the River Kwai is historically inaccurate to the point of absolute disgust. At no point did American, British and Austrailian prisioners of war work idly with their Japanese captors. Instead, they fought the building of the bridge and miles of railway by using termite infested woods and inferior iron - anything to prevent the line from working to transport Japanese soldiers throughout the region. Hundreds on Allied soldiers died along this rail line and this travesty of a movie only mocks their sacrifice.
2002-04-17
Do yourself a favor...


Watch the REAL story of the Bridge on the River Kwai (it airs frequently on the History Channel) and listen to the accounts of the men who survived. THEN watch this piece of fiction before you comment on how it portrays the blah blah of war, and the madness of blah blah. BOTRK is fiction, nothing more. The fact that people have praised the film for its realism and frank depiction of war is a great dishonor to the people who were beaten, starved, tortured and even eaten in Japanese prison camps. Try to imagine, if you will, a film about Auschwitz where the concentration camp prisoners are all well fed, not a single walking skeleton in sight, as they whistle while they work. No mention of ovens, gas chambers or horrible 'medical' experiments. Pretty offensive, isn't it? Now try to imagine having lived through an ordeal such as that, and knowing that IMBD users have voted that film into the top 250. Anybody who feels they owe any debt of gratitude to the old men who gave their lives and minds for our freedom, please vote '1' for this film. Get it into the *other* top 150, right up there with Santa With Muscles and Manos, the Hands of Fate.
2002-01-07
Some problems with the dealings of race
I'll start off by saying that I'm an Irish-English-German-French descendant American. That David Lean was an excellent director shows very well here.

Sessue Hayakawa actually had my sympathy. He could have just let Guiness die in the hole and forced labor under the threat of death. Instead, he liberates him and the English man is victorious and the Japaneses cries by himself. By the way, I didn't see much Japanese or even much Asians in an area that's supposed to be Asis. Hayakawa even gets stabbed by death to show a young English recruit to prove courage.

Guiness played the stiff upper lip Englishman who pridefully supervises the buildin of the bridge for the Japanese. It turns out to be his downfall as Willian Holden and Jack Hawkins come to destroy it.

Holden is definitely the most likable of the group but then I did start by saying I'm an American. Odd scene where the white guys get muddied up by the yellow girls as if the whites were gods.

But the dialogue is thoughtful and brings up interesting issues. Made prior to James Bond, the training camps of the British must have been influential for those films.

The palaces where the English plan their strategies are something to behold. In fact, all locations used for this film are quite outstanding.

And it nary a boring moment in the film. It moves fairly quickly and the showdown one of best I've seen in war films.

Willian Holden managed to star in many important films of the 1950's and this is definitely one of his best.
2008-01-03
The greatest Anti-War, no, the greatest War movie ever, bar none!
Although I heard several times the quality of The Bridge on the River Kwai, no review can prepare you for the sheer jaw-dropping, absolute perfection that this movie is.

The movie, set in World War II, begins with a pan down to a batallion of British soldiers whistling a very recognizable tune, and marching in step into a Japanese POW camp in the jungles of modern-day Burma. The camp is run by Colonel Saito, played by Sessue Hayakowa, a part-time artist and wine connoisseur, and full-time prison warden and sadist. Colonel Saito tells his captives, members of the Royal Armed Corps of Engineers, that they must build a rail bridge over the Kwai River, or be executed "without honor". He also orders the officers of the corps, led by Colonel Nicholson, played by Sir Alec Guiness, to assist in the manual labor. Colonel Nicholson resists, citing a book of the rules of warfare written by the League of Nations forbiding captured officers to serve manual labor. In honorable protest, they stand at full attention in a hunger strike for a full 24 hours until Colonel Saito relents.

Colonel Nicholson goes to the construction site and realizes that the bridge should be built on more solid ground further downstream. He convinces Colonel Saito that they should build in another site. If his men are being forced to work, Nicholson argues, they will work to build the best possible construction. During the second construction, an American soldier Shears escapes the camp and ends up in Ceylon, a British Territory at the time. His British liberators use him and his knowledge of the project, and they assemble a small team to go back to the bridge to destroy it.

And therein lies the conflict. In most movies, there is a person or group that you can "root" for without conviction, like the Americans in Saving Private Ryan. If you root for Shears and his team, they are destroying something that their countrymen slaved hard labor to build. Rooting for Nicholson means you are upholding the Japanese in their goal of expansion. Even Saito, although very brutal, is honorable. He fights and does what he does for his country, not his own glory. Honor is usually a virtue, but here it is a fatal flaw. The pointlessness of war becomes completely apparent. Pardon the cliche, but there are no winners in this movie, or in war, just degrees of losing. Two points drive this home. The first is Shears's exclaimation "...you're all worrying about the proper way to die, when you should be worrying about the proper way to live!" The second is after the bridge is completed, Colonel Nicholson gives a final lookover and sets a placard on the bridge that states that although it is under a Japanese flag, it was build by the hard work of the Royal Armed Corps of Engineers. The final end sequence is totally gripping, and one that you will never forget.

This movie won 7 Oscars, and it deserved every one. Every element, the plot, acting, characterization, editing, is stunning. The cinematography of the jungle and the bridge itself is among the best ever, and is a real treat in widescreen. It's 2:45 running time will amaze you when you realize it after you are over, because it doesn't seem the least bit overlong. Even the visual effects do not seem dated, and it was made over 40 years ago. I don't give out 10's very often, but this movie more than earns it. There are absolutely no flaws in this movie, and is director David Lean's (Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia) masterpiece and is truly timeless. A perfect movie that marries blockbuster entertainment with cinematic artistry, this should not be missed. And you'll be whistling that tune for days after seeing it.
1999-03-31
A War Film About Individuals
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a British World War II film by David Lean based on The Bridge over the River Kwai by French writer Pierre Boulle. The film is a work of fiction but borrows the construction of the Burma Railway in 1942–43 for its historical setting. It stars William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa. The film was shot in Sri Lanka (credited as Ceylon, as it was known at the time). The bridge in the movie was located near Kitulgala.

The Bridge on the River Kwai opens in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Burma in 1943, where a battle of wills rages between camp commander Colonel Saito and newly arrived British colonel Nicholson. Saito insists that Nicholson order his men to build a bridge over the river Kwai, which will be used to transport Japanese munitions. Nicholson refuses, despite all the various "persuasive" devices at Saito's disposal. Finally, Nicholson agrees, not so much to cooperate with his captor as to provide a morale-boosting project for the military engineers under his command. The colonel will prove that, by building a better bridge than Saito's men could build, the British soldier is a superior being even when under the thumb of the enemy. As the bridge goes up, Nicholson becomes obsessed with completing it to perfection, eventually losing sight of the fact that it will benefit the Japanese. Meanwhile, American POW Shears, having escaped from the camp, agrees to save himself from a court martial by leading a group of British soldiers back to the camp to destroy Nicholson's bridge. Upon his return, Shears realizes that Nicholson's mania to complete his project has driven him mad.

Brilliant is the word, and no other, to describe the quality of skills that have gone into the making of this picture.Most war movies are either for or against their wars. The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of the few that focuses not on larger rights and wrongs but on individuals for it speaks of the code of honor amongst men during war, the respect shared by enemies of war, and the madness which war evokes.In short,this complex war epic asks hard questions, resists easy answers, and boasts career-defining work from star Alec Guinness and director David Lean.
2012-03-07
Ageless and all but perfect
Of all war movies this is the one with the best idea behind it. Think how easy it is to make a bad war movie. A group of people must blow up a bridge, and this is the story of their quest ... Actually, that DID serve as the premise for a film: it was called `Force Ten from Navarone', and it was dire. Or how about this one: we see close up the brutalities of war. (Then we see them again. Then we see some more of the brutalities of war. Then we see the credits.) Or how about this: a humble American soldier, with the pragmatism native to his breed, rejects his superiors' highfalutin talk of honour and glory and asserts his basic humanity in trying to stay alive. Or this one: we see English prisoners of war maintain their dignity in the face of Japanese brutality.

They're all present, in a sort of a way: but ALSO present is a magnificent, long, suspenseful, tight story, around which these apparent clichés wrap naturally. If the clichés don't wrap naturally then they, not the story, are bent out of shape. Just when we think that the American pragmatist will turn out to be the hero, we see him cut a rather shabby figure, and it seems that there really WAS something to that highfalutin talk of honour and glory, after all. But then we discover that he has standards of his own, and they appear to be better ones. But THEN it seems that ... I could go on indefinitely, since there are many people here with something to be said for them, and it requires some thought to see who has the most to be said for him in the end.

There's almost no need to mention the excellent performances, photography and music. The only thing one might have qualms about is historical accuracy. Nothing like this ever happened. Still, that makes the movie much less dishonest than those that base themselves on historical events, and then proceed to get them all wrong. You can only be misled by `The Bridge on the River Kwai' if you don't know that it's pure fiction. Well - you know now.
1999-09-06
The battle of will between two monolithic soldiers of war
Director David Lean's earlier war movie, this one taking place in the jungles of Burma. A group of British soldiers have been captured by the Japanese, but their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), instantly clashes with the camp commander, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), who he sees trying to undermine the rules of war by forcing the officers into manual labour alongside their men. Whereas Saito sees Nicholson as a traitor to the rules of war for having surrendered alive. Also, soon after the British have arrived, an American soldier named Shears (William Holden) manages to escape.

Lean takes us on a long journey in this film. The duality of war's conventions and rules being put against the sheer savagery of it is examined through the characters of Nicholson and Saito - and to a lesser degree Shears and the company he keeps. War is horrendous and oftentimes meaningless, but quite often men try to deal with this by forcing artificial rules onto it. Rules, which become so precious to them, that they cannot adapt them or operate outside of them. And in a way this is just as horrendous and meaningless.

This film lives by its grand scope and the talent of its actors. And luckily both of those work very well. Guinness is hands down the most memorable performance and the one that embodies the themes of the movie the best, but the rest of the cast is also very good. The film is also shot beautifully, with some great scenes and sets included.

The Bridge on the River Kwai doesn't quite live up to the grandeur of Lawrence of Arabia, but it is still a fine piece of war cinema and well worth a watch for all interested.
2017-06-26
One of the best films ever made.
Well, we can all read the 8.4 rating. This is a very well liked movie, and for good reasons I imagine. I cannot pretend to speak for all of these positive ratings, but I will say that it deserves better than a 5.0 rating from your reviewer.

I first saw the film as an 11 year old. All I remembered then was the whistling. Seeing it again on video many years after was quite an experience for me. This is the ultimate anti-war film, bar none. It is beautifully done, but it can be painful to watch.

The film offers defining moments for both Guiness and Holden that would follow them for some time afterwards.

If only all of David Lean's films had been this wonderful.
2004-05-24
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