Based on recorded witness testimony from real-life survivors, City of Life and Death is a stunning depiction of the Rape of Nanking, meticulously recreating the infamous reign of terror conducted by the occupying Japanese army in the Chinese capital in 1937.
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I think we understand that the real thing was very brutal. I don't need to see that to get an understanding of what went on. It was delicate balance that this film achieved. A very brave film which should be applauded.
Incredible picture on all levels from director Lu Chuan who gives a masterful take on the Rape of Nanking. Lu is one of the best directors to emerge in the last fifteen years from China but the growth from his two first features (Missing Gun and Kekexili) is staggering. Cinematography by Cao Yu is breathtaking and the performances captured are genuine and exacting. One can only be left breathless by the images.
Rarely do films touch me the way this one did. A haunting and very disturbing image of a part of history I never knew about. Apart from the striking techniques Lu used to create an atmosphere of pure horror, what stuck most was "Let them go. Life is more difficult than death." Thought-provoking till the end.
A stark and haunting telling of the massacre of Nanking, the Chinese capitol invaded by the Japanese in WWII. The battle scenes are appropriately harrowing, but the real power is in the film's devastating 2nd half. Shot in striking black and white, the film is a stirring portrait of wartime terrors, and of humanity amidst unspeakable tragedy.
"The responsibility of handling such an important and politically sensitive event might cause a lesser filmmaker to play it safe, and to some extent, the multiple storylines do seem imported from war movies past. But ... Lu wriggles out of convention where he can ... and engages with history as an artist, not a hagiographer." - Scott Tobias, AV Club. "Life is more difficult than death." - Kadokawa
I've been reluctant to write about this film for the past seven years, otherworldly though it is; words can't do it any justice. Drawn from eyewitness testimony of The Rape of Nanking's survivors (and perpetrators), it is an artful, spare, impartial and human portrait of war's abject horrors. The fleeting moments of decency and pity throughout will haunt you for days. A true masterpiece.