Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review of "City of Life and Death"

It’s doubtful that there will ever be complete agreement concerning the 1937 invasion of Nanking. Just look at how many divergent opinions exist today concerning what led up to the American Civil War, and that ended over a hundred and fifty years ago. No one disputes that in 1937 there was an invasion, and no one disputes that people died. That’s what happens during armed conflicts. It’s what happened immediately after the invasion that to this day remains a source of such anger that it continues to have enormous political and social ramifications for the people of China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Chuan Lu’s City of Life and Death (also known as Nanjing! Nanjing!) is the Chinese account of the invasion of Nanking, an event that has since come to be known as the Rape of Nanking, partly due to Iris Chang’s powerful book of the same name. It is not a film for the faint of heart or the squeamish. One scene in particular demonstrates this very well. In the scene, a Japanese soldier walks slowly through the battered streets of Nanking. He passes people tied to poles awaiting execution, Japanese soldiers looting homes of anything of value, a group of young women being led away in chains, the naked and bruised body of a young Chinese woman, and men on their knees shot in the back of the head execution-style. Later, we’ll see vast landscapes filled with the bodies of Chinese soldiers, most of them shot after they had surrendered or been disarmed. Throughout the film, there are also constant reminders of the dangers that war and military occupation pose to women.

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