Wednesday, September 30, 2009

City of Life and Death (南京! 南京!)

The Horror

The last Rape of Nanking event film I had watched, was the docu-drama Nanking back in 2007 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!

You can read my review of City of Life and Death at by clicking on the logo below.


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