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I'm an overseas Chinese, growing up listening to my grandfather telling
the stories about how bad the Japanese Military treating the Chinese
people in WWII.
I saw some of the movies made back in the 80's/90's about the rape of Nanking, to me they are exploitation movies and never affected me or leave me with profound experience. I'm actually disgusted with them making such low movies. Also most of the documentaries I watched never really does anything.
I watched Nanjing! Nanjing! - City of Life and Death tonight and it really drained me emotionally, the movie really depicting the real face/real ugly side of war, where the victims are always the people, doesn't matter what wars or which countries.
The movie itself doesn't really do the finger pointing like other movies, but it just showing, in my opinion, the fair view on what was going on back then without taking sides.
And it's show one thing, the most profound thing to me, that The Chinese people can endure a lot of hardship that life throw at them and that's possibly why their cultures and civilization last for a long time.
Highly recommended for people who never really know this part of history, as Chinese I know about it, but for lot of my westerners friends who never been to China, they only heard about it but didn't realize how crazy it was and how significant is this event for the Chinese people. Most people know the atrocities the Nazis did in WWII, but not the Japanese Atrocities.
Watched it and let's pray there won't be WW III or any wars at all actually.
Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2009 (Market screening)
Since I am not Chinese, or of Chinese extraction, City of Life and Death has a different resonance for me. I know of the Nanking massacre (for which, it has to be said, the Japanese have yet to apologise or even properly acknowledge) from my own interest in history, as well as the John Rabe story (the Nazi who helped save thousands of Chinese civilians, until recalled to Germany since Hitler did not wish to upset his Japanese allies).
Therefore, for me, City of Life and Death retells a fearful part of history, but not one with which I have any direct connection. So while this film may resonate a certain way for Chinese viewers, be they from the mainland, Hong Kong or overseas Chinese, I can tell you that I, as a European, have seldom seen a film so powerful, gripping, dramatic and moving.
City of Life and Death is not nationalistic propaganda or a reversioning for the screen: no punches are pulled. The woman next to me was in tears. So be warned, this is not easy viewing. But by featuring on a few characters, allowing them to become fully three-dimensional human beings (not Chinese, not Asian, but human beings who live, love and feel) director Lu Chuan makes his audience feel and share their fear and terror as the Japanese invaders commit atrocity after atrocity on the fallen city's inhabitants. Never forget, this actually happened.
If anything, Lu Chuan soft pedals on the horrors. They are depicted, but are not front and centre. This is not a horror film so gore hounds and ghouls should seek their thrills elsewhere. Rather, it is the arbitrariness with which the Japanese went about their murderous work that scares. Wrong place, wrong time: rape, torture, murder. This wasn't the efficient, methodical murder the Nazis introduced, but rather cold brutality, as a cat toys with a helpless mouse. Unthinking, unreasoning, just because.
Filmed in black and white, City has so many images and scenes that remain fixed in you mind long after the final credits have rolled. Lu Chuan even selects the grain and grading according to the action. The use of colour would, in this case, have weakened the film.
But if City of Life and Death were just two hours of suffering it would be unworthy of an audience. So Lu Chuan gives us the central characters of Mr. Tang (John Rabe's secretary), Miss Jiang (a schoolteacher) and Kadokawa (a sensitive Japanese soldier who witness but cannot delay the unspeakable). All of them are helplessly swept up in the maelstrom, which Lu Chuan leavens with scenes of (attempts at) normal life, normal human interaction and naked attempts at survival. These are people with whom one can identify and empathise.
Yet, at heart, City of Life and Death is extremely uplifting. The message, at the end, is positive and optimistic. In writing this review, the film is coming back to me again. What I once read, black and white on a page, has been made real for me and, yes, I'm emotionally moved by it.
If you believe in the power of film, want a break from popcorn entertainment, are looking for a film that can make you feel (as opposed to having your emotions manipulated) then please go see this one. It's rare when I think a film should be seen, deserves to be seen, but City of Life and Death belong in that very rare category.
I finished watching this film two hours ago and the punch in the stomach I received watching it still hurts. I don't recall having received such a punch in my 60 or so years of film watching. Unlike films such as "Schindler's List" or "Empire of the Sun", this film does not take sides. It's like a candid camera operated by an invisible grand master hidden in the crowd or the rubble. It's just there recording events. As a result, despite the fact that it focuses on the big picture, the individual is not lost: Both the Chinese and the Japanese, each and every one of them, in huge crowds are real believable characters. This gives the viewer a grand and horrible sense of presence which is what makes it so painful. It would take courage to watch it again.
The last Rape of Nanking event film I had watched, was the docu-drama
Nanking back in 2006 during the Hong Kong International Film Festival.
With interviews conducted with real survivors, I was riveted to listen
to their account of the atrocities conducted by the Japanese soldiers,
and you empathize with them as they relive their memory and make them
known. The dramatic elements were nicely presented as well, with
notable names reading off memoirs and letters pertaining to individual
episodes, which collectively make up the brutal horror, a living hell
if you would, of the conditions of occupation.
Lu Chuan of Kekexili fame has crafted this fine film that looks into 2 broad episodes – the first few hours of occupation which will satisfy action junkies, and the later half which looked into the atrocities that were committed some 1 week into occupation, from within an international safety zone set up by Westerners, led by German John Rabe, who gets some concession by virtue of Nazi Germany being Japan's ally.
There's the controversial aspect of the film though, where it doesn't demonize the invading force right away. Instead, I lauded its realistic portrayal of the human condition of Fear when we go into the unknown, and this emotion gets vividly captured in the first few minutes of the movie, setting the tone of the entire film, where fear drives us to do inhumane, barbaric acts. That being said, it doesn't shy away from reenacting the atrocities committed against the Chinese, from bayonet stabbings, mass burials of breathing souls, burning and the machine gunning of surviving soldiers, and rape.
Filled with plenty of characters each given a specific purpose in the film, either representative of an historical legend, or collectively as a group, it makes you feel for the individual with documentary-like precision, and I am somewhat intrigued at how one can feel so much through the simple camera work of going real close to the actor's face, and lingering onwards to capture moments of despair and bewilderment.
If there's one film you should see this year, then don't miss this one. I only hope that it gets played in a decent cinema hall with a great sound system, otherwise it'll do this film no justice. Certainly a contender for one of my films of the year, and comes highly recommended!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm a Chinese, I live in Nanjing.
Since i was in primary school, i've watched a lot of movies about the slaughter in Nanjing in 1937. We've been told and taught that 300,000 Chinese were killed in that slaughter, most of them were refugees. We've seen so many cruel photos, read so many articles, and heard the vivid reports of some survivals, which has made 1937's Nanjing a scar on the heart of every Chinese, especially the old ones who witnessed the slaughter, and their descendants.
I don't want to talk too much about the hates between Chinese and Japanese. Why I think "Nanjing! Nanjing! " the greatest movie about this tragedy, is that when LU Chuan shot this movie, he not only put away his hates, but even used an angle of a Japanese soldier, and dared to show the soldier's sympathy and humanity. This movie is logical, rational and together with deep emotion. It's not simply a movie for Chinese people to deepen their hates on Japanese, it's a movie for people all over the world to see, to know, to experience and to explore what Japanese have done to Nanjing in 1937. It's not another traditional movie about Nanjing Slaughter which describes Japanese soldiers as some mentally disordered ones, as demon; it shows that what happened in Nanjing in 1937 was simply a slaughter human done to human. Just because this movie was shot without hates without slants without sharp emotions, it has demonstrated the most powerful thing in the world: truth.
Nanjing, 1937, not matter Japanese admit its existence or not -- we may forgive, but never forget.
A very fine movie, strong and rather heavy. I was relatively familiar
with the events that took place in Nanjing therefore I was not
surprised by the atrocities I saw reenacted on the big screen.The
device of shooting the film in black and white was effective, in the
sense that it created an impression akin to a documentary or a current
affairs reportage of the age. Alessandro Ahmenabar may have said that
he wanted "Agora" to give the impression that it reported events from
4th century A.D. Alexandria like a CNN live correspondence but I think
"The City of Life and Death" was the movie that succeeded on that,
giving to the spectator the impression of watching the events in live
Although it portrayed numerous atrocities, it masterfully avoided the trap of succumbing to "pornography of violence". It also tried to treat the incidences of mass rape and "comfort women", which after all are the reasons that the conquest of Nanking became notorious and was named The Rape of Nanking, in a relatively discreet manner, the only one possible.
The actors were expressive and one must note that this multi-person drama, lacking a protagonist was reminiscent of the technique of the films of Robert Altman also lacking a protagonist.
It was also a good idea to create a positive and repentant Japanese character in order to alleviate the obnoxious impression that the viewer would form about the Japenese people in general.
I do not know whether there is a propaganda value in this movie but judging it a work of art, being not involved in Sino-Japanese affairs, I find it outstanding.
Big budget WWII epic , it happens when China is invaded by Japan at the
onset of war and finds Japanese army surrounding city of Nanjing
(1937). After that, at the city take place violations, mutilations, and
massacres. Some prisoners are interred in a prison camp but later they
are led to fire squad, scaffold and alive burying.
Director deglamorizes war showing true horror and terrible events. It's a staggering evocation of the Chinese Holocausto in Nanjing , as the atrocities are depicted matter of factly as by-product of sheer Japanese evil. The opening twenty minutes graphic depiction the facing off is , on its own, magnificent. The film-maker Chuan Lu is nicknamed the Chinese Steven Spielberg for his spectacular and impressive productions. As the moving beginning results to be as stirring as ¨Saving private Ryan¨ , the developing of the movie regarding invasion China is partially similar to ¨Empire of the sun¨ and suffering of Chinese people bear remarkable resemblance to Jews of ¨Schlindler list¨ .The starring, Nakaizumi, and the rest of the cast are excellent , as the movie is powered by splendid performances in charge of Chinese and Japanese actors who during filming suffered some inevitable discussions. Filmed in perfect black and white by cameraman Cao Yu , reflecting appropriately the grim and rotten environment .Lu Chuan makes a breathtaking work which directs spectacularly with groundbreaking scenes in a heartbreaking context.Chuan dedicated about three years joining information and interviewing experts for that scenes would adequate to reality of events. This masterpiece finally garnered the world attention and respect that the story deserves, winning several prizes in various International Festivals.
Unlike Shindler's List or John Rabe, this film focuses not on one particular hero in this kind of atrocities, but the countless ordinary people suffering from the horrors of war. Director Lu did an excellently balanced view, some may say too balanced, from the civilians and the soldiers - Chinese and Japanese alike during the rape of Nanking. The subject matter is profound, the acting is top-notch, the cinematography is excellent, however, the pacing is deliberately slow to match the mood of the film, making me wonder some time how long I had to suffer through. The ending is also a disappointment, when the director tries way too hard to make life the symbol. Still, overall, the movie is good, important and relevant. Watch it.
CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH is a masterpiece - of film making, of finding
the midline of response to war from both sides, of cautiously but
successfully blending intimate stories with the gory atrocities of war,
and of recreating a period of history we too soon forget unless prodded
by works such as this. Lu Chuan both wrote and directed this vision of
the 1937 decimation of Nanking, the capital of China, by the Japanese
that lasted in action for only six weeks but that has been a permanent
festering wound on the history of mankind that will always be a
reminder to what War is about.
Subtitled NANKING! NANKING! the audience is led to expect a film honoring the Chinese who bravely fought to resist of the Japanese invasion and ultimate destruction of the then capital of China. Instead the writer/director elects to put us in the midst of the war, showing all aspects of how war changes and affects and destroys people. The black and white film is able to create the illusion that we are actually in 1937 Nanking. We meet several important personalities from that time: the Chinese Resistance leader Lu Jianxiong (the inordinately gifted and handsome actor Ye Liu), the Chinese schoolteacher Miss Jiang (Yuanyuan Gao) who fights constantly to save her people, the Nazi German John Rabe (John Paisley) who maintains a Safety Zone to protect the Chinese until the Nazis recall him to avoid insulting their Japanese allies, Rabe's Chinese assistant and translator Mr Tang (Wei Fan) and his wife (Lan Qin) who despite the suffering they endure from the Japanese still are selfless in the choices they make to help their people, and Kadokawa (and impressive Hideo Nakaizumi) who as a Japanese soldier is a symbol for those warriors who are conflicted about the cruelty inflicted on the Chinese. These individuals provide stories with the story that allow the viewer to connect to the human aspect of the victims and the perpetrators of the annihilation we are witnessing. There are devastating scenes of the forced 'comfort houses' created to keep the Japanese soldiers happy, the demanded selection of 100 Chinese women to provide physical gratification to the enemy, the massacre of thousands of citizens - men, women, children - and the destruction of the very city itself. But Lu Chuan balances these with some very tender moments, such as the first sexual encounter of a virgin soldier with a prostitute and how he interprets this experience as love to the point of providing as much gratitude and safety to the prostitute as he can, and the incredibly tender scenes between Lu Jianxiong and a little boy who brings him bullets.
The cast is stunning and while many of us do not recognize the faces, they are obviously some of the cream of the crop of Chinese and Japanese actors. Yu Cao is in charge of the very realistic and photographically perfect cinematography and the musical score by Tony Liu is not only appropriate for the theme of the film but also provides some very simple Western piano music for the intimate scenes. There are multiple choices of subtitles including English. CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH not only documents a piece of martial history that is important to remember, but it is also another way of viewing how WAR can alter the minds and lives of those on both side of the battle. Highly Recommended.
It is said that evil can only manifest itself when we do nothing to stop it. When we simply allow for it to happen whether in our lives or in the lives of others. The Japanese soldiers who invaded Nanking justified their horrific acts by claiming pride and duty towards their beloved country. Barbaric and without mercy, these troops of doom descended upon the city like the worst nightmare ever conjured by humans. Imagine an army of serial killers and rapists wreaking havoc without being reined in and you'll get an idea. Kudos and hats off to the director for having the courage to bring this shameful blemish in world history to life. Unflinching, painful and without apologies.
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