Monday, May 9, 2011
"The Japanese are such a cruel race," mutters Gemma Jones, in one oddly funny observation during the filmed version of Bridget Jones's Diary. This line, echoing the sentiments of many Britishers who lived through World War II, is brought to new and appalling heights via the 2009 film CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH, just now opening its U.S. theatrical run. If you've seen, as has TrustMovies, several films already that dealt with the Japanese massacre of Chinese civilians (and army) in the former Chinese capital of Nanking -- including the documentary named for that city, as well as last year's worthwhile German film John Rabe -- you can be forgiven for not rushing headlong to yet another wallow in real-life horror.
Lu Chuan, (shown at left), who earlier gave us the much-admired Mountain Patrol (Kekexili) and The Missing Gun, his new narrative movie, coming after what has already surfaced, may seem like too much, too late. With crack visuals ever at the ready, this is, in some ways, the best of the lot; in other ways, it's the worst. Filmed in wide-screen, using black-and-white cinematography -- the latter certainly takes us back to how movies looked at the time (December 1937) that the event occurred -- Lu's film places us quite thoroughly in the shoes of the massacred Chinese -- some of which are shown, pre-mass, just below.
Hideo Nakizumi, above). Lu has made the incredibly obtuse mistake of tossing every last positive trait onto this young man -- a terrible burden for any real, full-bodied character to have to bear. The actor manages it as best he can, but intelligent viewers are going to suppress a guffaw at the guy. (Even Eastwood handled this sort of thing better in his dank, interminable Letters from Iwo Jima.)
Sophie's Choice moment toward the finale that just adds to the pain of the poor Chinese.
Fan Wei (above), Ye Liu and Gao Yuanyuan (two photos above) are all used more as icons than as full-bodied characters. But then, under these grueling circumstances -- everything is always awful -- there is little room for expressions of more than pain and sorrow. Mr. Ye (shown below, right, and bottom, center) fares best, perhaps because he's given more to do early on and is dispensed with before the worst of it.
Kino International, opens this Wednesday, May 11, at New York's Film Forum for a two-week run. It will probably be appearing elsewhere around the country, and then on DVD, but as of now, I don't know specifics.