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.
Many of us have some knowledge of the Sino-Japanese war; and many are the films that have portrayed what happened during that period. “CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH” (2009) is director Lu Chuan’s attempt in portraying the massacre in Nanking (rape of Nanking), a period that occurred between 1937 and 1938 when the Imperial Japanese army have occupied China’s capital committing atrocities against defenseless Chinese P.O.W.s such as murder, mutilation, looting and rape. … more
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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City of Life and Death takes place in 1937, during the height of theSecond Sino-Japanese War. The Imperial Japanese Army has just captured the then-capital of the Republic of China, Nanjing. What followed was known as the Nanking Massacre, a period of several weeks wherein massive numbers of Chinese prisoners of war and civilians were killed.
The film tells the story of several figures, both historical and fictional, including a Chinese soldier, a schoolteacher, a Japanese soldier, a foreign missionary, and John Rabe, a Nazi businessman who would ultimately save thousands of Chinese civilians.