Friday, May 3, 2013

Film Review: City of Life and Death (2009)

City of Life and Death (Review)
China/2009
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

In 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army capture Nanjing, the capital of the Republic of China. The period immediately afterward is known as the Nanking Massacre - the brutal slaughter of Chinese soldiers and civilians. City of Life and Death is this story.

The story in this film has been portrayed quite a few times on film; however, City of Life and Death feels like the most authentic, accurate, and fair portrayal. The story tells of Lu Jianxiong and his unit of Chinese soldiers, Japanese Sergeant Kadokawa Masao and his struggle with his - and his brethrens' - actions, and the Nanking Refugee Safety Zone ran by Nazi John Rabe. Each side of the story is painful to watch. The atrocities are vividly displayed, whether it be the many executions or the brutal rapes. The screeching shouts for help, the helpless pleading for life, the cries of pain and sorrow are extremely effective. It's not a shockingly graphic and violent film, as these atrocities are shot tastefully (for lack of a better word.) Many of the scenes will hurt you, many of the scenes will infuriate you, most of the movie will leave your jaw on the floor; I still can't get the pleading out of my head, it's haunting. The dance-ritual towards the end of the film is beautifully-executed, despite celebrating these horrid actions. The ending is dark, but signifies hope, in my opinion.

The acting in this film is phenomenal from the entire cast. Gao Yuanyuan plays Jiang Shuyun, a teacher in the safety zone, very well; her emotion and care feel very authentic throughout her entire screen time. Nakaizumi Hideo plays Kadokawa and also shows great emotion and contemplation as he witnesses the atrocities; you can really see the battle he is fighting within. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and beautiful, despite the dark subject; it is greatly complimented by the black and white. Lu Chan's direction is also very precise and perfectly executed. There are a few title cards (post cards) that convey some background information. The font is difficult to read and they pass by too quickly to read. Pausing will fix this very minor issue.

Overall, City of Life and Death is a beautiful yet horrifying experience that should be witnessed. Lu Chan masterfully sends every heart-wrenching emotion through your body in this epicly disturbing and insightful war film. I highly recommend a purchase.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong war violence and gore, nudity and sex (rape).

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