Lu Chuan’s highly publicized film Nanking!Nanking!, also known as The City of Life and Death in English, received huge successes at the box offices. In 10 days, box office sells reached 110million yuan, making Lu Chuan the fifth Chinese director to earn over 100 million yuan with a film. Despite huge commercial successes, the film received huge amounts of criticisms.
The movie was highly publicized, and the audience went in with high expectations. The human side of me wanted to see Lu Chuan’s portrayal of the “causes of wars and atrocities,” how normal human beings could turn into monsters. The partriotic side of me wanted to see Lu Chuan’s promise of “showing how the Chinese people saved themselves.” There was nothing of the sort. Other than the 100 girls, a little kid, and Liu Ye’s character, most of the Chinese were weak. The civilians were spineless, as were the soldiers. Instead, the Japanese guy really is the only one who actually saves anyone. In an attempt to undermine Rabe’s role, Lu Chuan also made Rabe useless and his secretary a traitor when in fact neither were true. Nor did Lu Chuan really explore the causes behind atrocities and war in depth.The only logical reason Lu Chuan gave in the movie was that the Chinese deserved to be killed. Instead, the other soldiers lacked dimensions and seemed to be plain heartless while the hero – a Japanese soldier, was just simply good.
Nanking was a moving story, an emotional one of a person’s regret, but it was so cruel. Nanking! lacked any moral message, and failed to do the history justice. Yes, it was humane, it showed the Japanese in a more human light, but not a dimensional one. It showed one Japanese who was never bad to begin with, and follows him as he continues to be good.
As a movie, Nanking was good. As something greater, I don’t think it reached that level yet. You know a movie about Nanking didn’t succeed if there was a scene when I seriously wanted to slap the Chinese civilians…and Gao Yuanyuan’s character. Even worse, this film prevented Zhang Yimou from filming a perhaps better movie about the Nanking Massacre because both included the subplot of the 100 comfort women.
Hunan TV director Zhang Huali summed it up in his blog:
Schindler’s list went beyond national, ethnical, political and idealogical boundaries, and touched the heart’s strongest and softest part. But such sadness must be reflected in truth and objectivity, Nanking!Nanking! incidentally picked the wrong viewpoint at the wrong time. A second-rate art ideal added to an unconventional historical view formed this product.