Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. China/Hong Kong, 2009. China Film Group Corporation, Chuan Films, Jiangsu Broadcasting System, Media Asia Films, Stellar Megamedia. Screenplay by Chuan Lu. Cinematography by Yu Cao. Produced by John Chong, Sanping Han, Hong Qin, Andy Zhang, Li Zhou. Music by Tong Liu. Production Design by Yi Hao. Costume Design by Rong Wang. Film Editing by Yun Teng. Toronto International Film Festival 2009.
The 1937 massacre of Nanking (or Nanjing) is recreated in stunning, painful detail in this masterful epic. Invading Japanese soldiers take over the former Chinese capital and mercilessly kill thousands of people, rape countless women and brutalize their captors to no end. At the centre of the Japanese army is a soldier who observes his fellow men with skepticism and fear: is what they are doing justified by the fact that they are captors, or has some manner of evil been unleashed in the spirit of victory? This complex moral portrayal at the heart of the story earned the film no end of controversy, banned in China for not being tough enough in its portrayal of the evil enemy while also reviled in Japan for its reminder of a very difficult history. Sometimes it takes too broad a view of its situation (it opens with grand scenes that take a while before they focus on human personalities), but the crowd work is stunning. Sensitive viewers should be warned, however, that the film is very honest about the terrible realities of this ugly chapter in human history.