Nanking succeeds at the office but fails in history

Lu Chuan's the only one smiling because he's the only one that benefited from this movie.

Lu Chuan's the only one smiling because only he's the only one that benefited from this movie.

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.

14 thoughts on “Nanking succeeds at the office but fails in history

  1. I must agree with this review. The first time I tried to watch Nanking!Nanking! I did fall sleep. It was boring and uninteresting, but I tried again since everybody around me was saying how good this film was. I got striked by one scene: the 100 women who offer themselves to the Japanese army, which also asked quite nicely, after John Rabe´s pathetic speech. That is not only an insult to China, but to history, since it never happened that way. According to Rabe´s diary, the Japanese soldiers entered by force into the GinLing College, not a church as we see in the movie; women from the college (acc. to Rabe, “virgins”) refused to go, they would even die before submitting to the Japanese army; then someone, probably a Chinese guy -Rabe doesn´t mention his name- spoke out some sweet words and some girls who were refugee prostitutes, not students, accepted to go.

  2. I don’t think it’s possible to make a realistic, humane, all-perspectives-taken-in movie about history because history is too subjective for such things. I’m glad the movie did great commercially though… shows that people still care about the past.

  3. Straight up real?
    Straight up real is not Rabe kneeling in helplessness.
    Straight up real is not Rabe’s assistant being a complete traitor.
    Straight up real is not Japanese soldiers committing suicide due to the massacre.
    Straight up real is not Japanese soldiers letting the Chinese go.

    There have been exactly zero recorded instances of any of the above.

    The human perspective?
    Lu Chuan would rather show the perspective of someone who committed atrocities then committed suicide, of someone who only saw the cowardice and treachery of the Chinese, of someone who saw no good in the people he killed, but simply felt pity

    than the perspectives of those who were killed, raped, who had their families wiped out, their home destroyed?

    You go ahead and try to make a movie from the perspective of the poor Nazi’s who had to eliminate the cowardly, weak Jews and we’ll see how far you get.

  4. See the movie people. The Japanese are not shown as “good” in the movie. In fact teh guy who plays the Japanese sergant does a great job of making me want to kick his evil head in. The Chinese people are not shown as “weak”. They are all shown as humans. This is not, thankfully, a China flag waving call to hate the Japanese kind of movie. This is a very strong portrayal of what it must have been like for all parties involved. I actually like the idea that the main character is Japanese soldier who witnesses the atrocities first hand and is torn. The Chinese characters not brave??? You obviously didn’t watch the film. Liu Ye’s character and his fellow soldiers who did not flee (and the majority of the Chinese army did in fact flee) are portrayed as brave as they get. Same with Gao’s character who essentially sacrifices herself when she is caught trying save condemned Chinese soldiers one at a time. Yes some of the Chinese are shown to be selfish but do you actually believe that none were?

    I believe the critics of the movie are politically motivated. Those on the Ultra Nationalist Chinese side will want the Japanese portrayed as the ultimate evil who make that stupid evil laugh with the bad guy music playing in the background. Those on the Ultra Nationalist Japanese side will of course say this movie is a bag of lies and that none of this happened. And then there are the foreign China bashers who will say this is another commie propaganda flick.

    WATCH THE MOVIE. I think Lu Chuan’s motivation was to show the events from 2 perspectives 1) the human perspective and 2) straight up real.

  5. What? Japanese are shown good in this movie?? o_o””
    I’m not sure if I really support this “see japanese from another viewpoint” thought that is quite common in china now. I mean every person knows deep in his heart that japanese are normal humans too despite the inhumane things they did but still people shouldn’t forget about history… and what was done to us. ´_`
    still i’m going to watch this movie, I’m a big fan of Liu Ye.

  6. What psychology? The lead was nice. He almost never did anything wrong. The one time he went to a prostitute, he decided to marry her. Everyone else were one-sided, heartless soldiers who didn’t care about killing a baby or two for dinner.

    If that’s the psychology he understands, then everyone else in his troop must’ve been horrible.

    However the militarists understood WAR and that the Army was a lawnmower, it reached the objective no matter what it takes. And, if you happened to be in the way of the lawnmower, you got cut down.

    Except lawnmowers don’t rape the grass before cutting it down. Or use them for medical experiments. Or dig its roots out and destroy all the seeds.

    I don’t think Lu Chuan deserve death threats, but I also think Iris Chang didn’t deserve death threats. But if I had relatives who died in Nanking, I would want to kill him, too.

  7. I think Lu Chuan understands the psychology of the Imperial Japanese Army. He was a career soldier. At the time, most of soldiers were bakers farmers and taxi drivers like normal people from the provinces. However the militarists understood WAR and that the Army was a lawnmower, it reached the objective no matter what it takes. And, if you happened to be in the way of the lawnmower, you got cut down. I don’t think he doesn’t deserve the death threats.

  8. interesting, I was hearing alot of good international press about the movie, wanting to pick it up for global distribution and it being the next schindlers list and what not…. I’ll have to check it out for myself before I come to any conclusions.

  9. idarklight watched it, and many of the reviews echo this statement.

    I didn’t think that Lu Chuan would be the best director for the job when I made my post on this long ago, but I didn’t think he’d be so completely off the mark. And what pisses me off most is the fact that Zhang Yimou, who was who I had been setting my hopes on in making a really moving Nanking massacre movie, has decided not to because of Lu Chuan’s film. *cries* He could have been so good at it…the last scene of Red Sorghum left images in my mind for weeks, and he was so good at capturing the realistic relationships between people struggling to survive in To Live. His characters have all seemed so real to me, and he wouldn’t have made such holllow caricatures of the Nanking victims or the Japanese soldiers.

  10. I have…and not exactly legally. *hides in shame* I just had to know what was causing all the fuss, and I can’t exactly fly to China to watch one movie.

    Yeah, the director of the John Rabe museum was pretty unhappy about Lu Chuan’s portrayal of John Rabe, as am I.

    This movie, imo, would be parallel to doing a movie about how this really nice Nazi killed this Jew who was a thief… it’s entirely possible, and we would feel for the nice Nazi guy and be glad the Jew was dead, and it should be noted there are probably some nice Nazi’s and not-so-nice Jews. However, such a movie is just irresponsible and not right.

  11. @idarklight
    Have you watched it already? Or is it just a translation of reviews? It’s intresting that you mention the movie doesn’t give a patriotic standpoint which SO many chinese films/dramas alway put in.
    I don’t know why but I actually want to watch this now lol. I originally thought it would be another on of those movies where chinese go in to watch and come out hating the Japanese a little bit more. And the chinese always do some honorable patriotic thing and what not. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m chinese)
    From the reviews seems like the story wasn’t too deep or didn’t touch on the important points? I don’t like how they undermined John Rabe’s character…anyway… I liked the trailer to the film, I’m gonna watch it anywho lol

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