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City Of Life And Death (Nanjing! Nanjing!) (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner16/04/2010

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 138 mins

Impressively directed, beautifully shot and superbly written, this is a powerfully emotional drama with terrific performances from a fine ensemble cast, though some scenes may prove too upsetting for some viewers.

What's it all about?
Directed by Lu Chuan, City of Life and Death (or Nanjing! Nanjing!, original title fans) is a multi-character Chinese drama about the rape of Nanking in December 1937. The various characters include: young commander Lu (Liu Ye), who stages a last-ditch but ultimately doomed resistance attack against the invading Japanese forces with an army that includes children and old men; Nazi representative John Rabe (John Paisley), who attempts to set up an International Safety Zone to protect refugees; Rabe's assistant Mr Tang (Wei Fan), who resorts to desperate measures to ensure the safety of his family; Miss Jiang (Gao Yuanyuan), who desperately tries to save as many refugees as she can before they're led off to be slaughtered; and virginal Japanese sergeant Kadokawa (Nakaizumi Hideo), who's horrified when he accidentally kills some civilians and later falls in love with 'comfort woman' Yuriko (Yuko Miyamoto).

The Good
City of Life and Death makes an excellent companion piece to the recent City of War: The Story of John Rabe, essentially offering a wider look at the same horrifying true story. The ensemble cast deliver terrific performances across the board, but the stand-outs include Nakaizumi Hideo's moving turn as Kadokawa (apparently the mere fact that Lu Chuan chose to include a humanised Japanese character has led to death threats against the director) and Wei Fan as Mr Tang.

The Great
The film is beautifully shot, with striking black and white photography courtesy of cinematographer Cao Yu. Similarly, Lu Chuan orchestrates some powerfully emotional sequences, though the accumulated effect is incredibly upsetting (there's an extended mass rape sequence, not to mention the slaughter of women and children) and may prove too much for some viewers.

That said, it's hard to criticise the film for accurately portraying the full horror of what really happened – yes, it's difficult to watch, but it's an important story that needs to be told (to this day, the Japanese have refused to acknowledge or apologise for the full extent of the atrocities committed).

Worth seeing?
In short, this is a superbly made, extraordinarily powerful film that demands to be seen. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 24/09/2018 06:10

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