This weekend we watched a movie called City of Life and Death, which depicts the Nanking Massacre that occurred in December, 1937, when Japanese aggressor troops occupied the Chinese city and killed over 300,000 citizens.
We’ve been meaning to watch this for a while, for research purposes, as our current feature project All That Remains also deals with this conflict, and the sense of authenticity portrayed in this film put it on our list of must see movies.
Although beautifully filmed, City of Life and Death is not an easy film to watch. Director, Chuan Lu is unflinching in his portrayal of the depths of depravity and inhumanity men can sink to in war, and re-creates the brutality of the “Rape of Nanking” with graphic detail. But among the horror, the film also depicts tender scenes of humanity, of noble self-sacrifice and bravery in the face of certain death.
The performances, as in most Chinese films we have watched, are top notch. Powerful, emotional and truthful. Not once did we ever get the sense that we were watching actors performing to a camera, no sense of self-conscious or show off performances, as British film can be guilty of at times, just raw, honest powerful acting at its best.
The above goes for the child actors too. You won’t get “Harry Potter kids” style acting here (thank God), instead you’ll find beautiful, naturalistic performances that effortless convey both innocence and vulnerability.
The cinematography by Cao Yu is another stand out, shot in black and white, as was our first feature The 13th Day, it is another example of just how effective black and white photography can be.
The beautiful musical score by Liu Tong is also worth a mention. The music score is always something we pay a lot of attention to, because, for us, music is the other side of the coin, a score should complement the visuals and imbue them with just the right emotional charge, and here it does just that. It’s a score that lingers after the final credits have finished rolling, and that’s a sign of a damn good score.
City of Life and Death is a harrowing masterpiece of modern Chinese film-making.