Plot: December 1937, Second Sino-Japanese War. Imperial Japanese Army captured the capital city of the Republic of China, Nanjing. The next few weeks are went down in history as the Nanking Massacre, recognized as one of the worst war crimes in the history. During this period hundreds of thousands of civilians were murdered, thousands of Chinese women were raped by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army.
The film tells the story of several figures both historical and fictional, including Japanese soldier Kadokawa, who struggles to remain a human being gradually internalizing the horrors committed by his countrymen; leader of failed Chinese resistance and a small Chinese boy, who fought shoulder to shoulder; a foreign missionary and John Rabe, a Nazi businessman who mapped out the Nanking Safety Zone in order to safeguard civilians in the city.
The film endured a lengthy period undergoing analysis by Chinese censors, waiting six months for script approval, and another six months for approval of the finished film. Finally, it took 4 years to produce the film. However, the Film Bureau did require some minor edits and cuts, including a scene of a Japanese officer beheading a prisoner, a scene of a woman being tied down prior to being raped, and an interrogation by a sympathetic Japanese officer of a Chinese soldier.
The film budget is US$12 million.
With China Film Group as a key investor and endorsement by both Party and state authorities, City of Life and Death opened strongly as one of the most widely screened films in China, exceeding $23.7 million in a month. It also provoked incensed reactions, including death threats to Lu for an alleged 'sympathetic' angle on the Imperial Army.
«Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death impresses by eschewing patriotic pride for a surprisingly balanced portrait of the Nanking Massacre. ... With strong acting, stunning cinematography, uncommonly thoughtful direction and flawless themes, City of Life and Death is nothing less than a powerful achievement. »
«What's surprising about "City" is all the things it isn't. It isn't a bombastic, nationalistic slice of melodrama; it isn't wall-papered with emotive music; and it isn't two-hours-plus of unmitigated grief and wailing.
Only partly because it's in black-and-white, the pic recalls Central Euro war dramas of the '50s and '60s (such as Andrzej Wajda's "Kanal"), with their powerful mixture of both grit and spiritual emptiness. But underneath the visual trappings, the movie remains deeply Chinese in its emotional underpinnings and relationships.»
«City Of Life And Death is more than just a slice of history - it's an exploration of human nature, of the relationship between individuals and crowds (and nations), and of the choices we must all ultimately make in order to carry what truly matters into the future.»
«For those viewers who feel they’re up to some of the most heartbreaking cinematic set-pieces in recent memory without the possibility of Hollywood redemption, or exploring the furthest extremes of terror and desperation without resorting to flooding the screen with gore, "City of Life and Death" ranks among the finest films ever made and comes hugely recommended.»
«While the black-and-white cinematography and use of hand-held camerawork are signifiers of an art-house approach, the sometimes ham-fisted storytelling and sketchily developed characters reveal director Lu Chuan’s more populist-minded intentions. The result is China’s own version of a Hollywood Holocaust drama — ugly, often powerful and as problematic as nearly every other movie that tries to fit the horrors of genocide within the contours of a feature film. »
«Lu is also very adept at drawing the audience in to the action and evoking sympathy or disgust in equal measure, something he also mastered with his previous films Mountain Patrol about volunteers protecting antelope from poachers in Tibet. ... Although difficult to watch, the film packs an extremely powerful punch and is well worth watching»
«Impressively directed, beautifully shot and superbly written, this is a powerfully emotional drama with terrific performances from a fine ensemble cast, though some scenes may prove too upsetting for some viewers.»
«Passionate and expertly crafted, this black-and-white opus is well worth seeking out.»
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