2000s City of Life and Death (2009)

Published on November 1st, 2011 | by Chris

1

City of Life and Death (2009)

City of Life and Death (2009)Quite frankly, this is the best, most brutal, most gut-wrenching war movie I've seen in a long, long time.  City of Life and Death is everything Schindler's List could have been, should have been, and more.

The short version: City of Life and Death is a condensation of the 1937 "Rape of Nanking" in which Japanese troops occupied the city and engaged in an orgy of violence that really has no comparison.  The story then follows German diplomat John Rabe's secretary Tang and his family as they try to survive, and escape the desperate situation.

From the beginning, you know you're in for a different experience.  The initial combat sequence is one of the best in recent memory.  From the tangible fear and tension, to the under-produced yet blisteringly real sound and gritty no-nonsense direction....  There's no lead-in apart from some brief narrative on postcards, it just happens.  It is what it is, and that's part of what makes this such an incredible picture.  Events unfold without warning, seemingly without purpose, leaving us (and them) to wonder "what is next?!"

The black and white presentation of the entire movie only adds to the overall feel.  Not only that, but, for me at least, it tempers the graphic violence and inhumanity throughout, and really solidifies the message behind it.  What message?  "China will live on."  This movie is about emotion, not about "how graphic can we make it."

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After the initial battle scene, the Japanese execute hundreds (more?) of prisoners outright.  Among them is a young boy, Xiaodouji.  He winds up in the "safe zone" for foreigners and embassy workers, along with Mr. Tang and his family, and another survivor (the name eludes me, bloody language barrier)....  From this point we watch as Tang and Rabe attempt to keep these people safe, while Tang also tries to make arrangements to keep his family safe, and eventually leave.  Then the Japanese make headway into the zone, and infamously "recruit" (read enslave) women for their "comfort stations"....

Then there is the tale of Japanese soldier Kadokawa.  He is (as is often the case) a young, impressionable, inexperienced man thrown into the war on the other side, and caught up wholeheartedly in the Japanese nationalist doctrine.  He's forced to contend with trying to survive and deal with what he's seen, and done, and his story is almost as compelling as the Tang family's.  I wouldn't call it sympathetic by any means, but it serves as a valuable counterpoint.

Let me get back to my original statement.  Yes, I feel that this movie is everything that Schindler's List should have been.  Quite frankly it makes Schindler's List look like a bad TV movie.  I've never been a big fan of "List,"  I thought it was forced and pretentious.  I make this comparison for two reasons.  One, the black and white presentation absolutely screams for it.  And two, both films exist to expose and decry the atrocities committed by the other side.   In both these arenas, "City" far surpasses "List", without becoming overly "preachy" or attempting to shove the message down your throat.

Honestly, I can't recall the last time I was affected by a movie like I was in this case.  It was absolutely painful, tear and squirm-inducing, and difficult to watch overall, but at the same time, it was a beautiful, beautiful film, with some sincere moments of joy to be found.

Just so there are no surprises, the film is shot (quite stunningly) in black and white, and is entirely in Mandarin and Japanese, with a few bits of English and German as it pertains to the embassy staff.

I don't turn out many 9/10 ratings.  I'm even going so far as to give City of Life and Death a 9.5.  Yeah, it is that good of a movie, despite being incredibly painful and difficult to watch.  It even made a hardened war-movie-veteran like me choke up on several occasions, and that doesn't happen too often.  If this review seems a bit wandering, jumbled, and disconnected, its because I found it difficult to put down in words the experience.

City of Life and Death: 2 Disc Special Edition [Blu-ray] City of Life and Death: 2 Disc Special Edition [Blu-ray]
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Description

On December 9, 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army laid siege to the Chinese capital of Nanking, beginning a reign of terror that killed as many as 300,000 civilians - an infamous tragedy now referred to as the Rape of Nanking...

DVD Information

Binding: Blu-ray
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)
Brand:
Manufacturer: Kino Lorber films
Original Release Date:
Actors:
  • Hideo Nakaizumi
  • Ye Liu
  • Yuanyuan Gao

Features

  • Factory sealed DVD

Reviews

Customer reviews
Average Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome movie!, July 20, 2016
By 
djpurvis (Bakersfield, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: City of Life and Death: 2 Disc Special Edition [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
This is a well done movie. If it were made in America I believe that it would have been Oscar worthy. I am half Japanese and this is one of the incidents that I am embarrassed about in regards to my being Japanese. It is hard to watch and will probably bring tears out of your eyes. Great acting, action and very emotional. Some riveting performances by the actors and actresses. I have always know about what the Japanese military did in Nan King. When America found out about these atrocities, they called for an oil embargo on Japan. The embargo was approved by all nations. This is why Japan decided to attack Pearl Harbor. Another part of Japaneses history that I am not proud of either.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing depiction of "The Rape of Nanking" on par with "Shindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan"., December 10, 2011
By 
J. Bradley (Charleston, WV USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: City of Life and Death: 2 Disc Special Edition [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
"City of Life and Death" is - like "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan" - a viscerally real look at a period of history that cinematically shakes our perception of that era and events. In this case it's "The Rape of Nanking" when the Japanese invaded China in 1937-'38. On one hand I tend to think the style of washed-out, black and white, grainy cinematography - to emulate the look of World War Two era photographs - has become a cliche. But the director here, Lu Chuan, has managed to bring that same incredible weight that Spielberg brought when you FIRST saw HIS movies of that era, back again as though you've not seen anything interpreted this way before. The story follows many characters and their fates through the initial invasion, the slaughter of prisoners and the "comfort stations" set up for the Japanese soldiers. The movie is pretty damning of the invading Japanese and an ending that contrasts that very traditional society from the brutality we've seen carried out in the... Read more
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars City of Life and Death...welcome to the world of Asian film..., August 3, 2014
By 
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This review is from: City of Life and Death: 2 Disc Special Edition [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
The quality of films coming out of Asia during the recent years is shocking. Not that Asia is not capable of producing quality films, the films starting to come out of Asia about 5 years ago are just so incredible in every "Hollywood Blockbuster" way. City of Life and Death is, so far, the perfect example of this new age in film. A warning to the faint of heart...this is a true story and there are some VERY disturbing scenes. When I like a movie, I will buy it and watch the "good" parts many times. When I love a movie, I will buy at least two copies and watch the whole movie again and again. I have seen this movie over fifty times now and still enjoy it as much as I did the first time.
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City of Life and Death (2009) Chris

Summary: Quite frankly, this is the best, most brutal, most gut-wrenching war movie I've seen in a long, long time. City of Life and Death is everything Schindler's List could have been, should have been, and more.

4.8


User Rating: 0 (0 votes)


About the Author

I've been watching war movies for probably 25 years now. Since December 2006 I've been sharing my habit and passion for these movies here on this site.



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