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  Publicity Stills of "Nankingt"
(Courtesy from GV)

In English and Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles
Director: Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman
Cast: Hugo Armstrong, Mariel Hemingway, Woody Harrelson, John Getz, Stephen Dorff
RunTime: 1 hr 30 mins
Released By: GV
Rating: NC-16
Official Website: http://www.nankingthefilm.com

Opening Day: 6 December 2007


A powerful, emotional and relevant reminder of the heartbreaking toll war takes on the innocent, Nanking tells the story of the Japanese invasion of Nanking, China, in the early days of World War II. As part of a campaign to conquer all of China, the Japanese subjected Nanking – which was then China’s capital – to months of aerial bombardment, and when the city fell, the Japanese army unleashed murder and rape on a horrifying scale. In the midst of the rampage, a small group of Westerners banded together to establish a Safety Zone where over 200,000 Chinese found refuge. Unarmed, these missionaries, university professors, doctors and businessmen – including a Nazi named John Rabe – bored witness to the events, while risking their own lives to protect civilians from slaughter.

The story is told through deeply moving interviews with Chinese survivors, chilling archival footage and photos of the events, and testimonies of former Japanese soldiers. At the heart of Nanking is a filmed stage reading of the Westerners’ letters and diaries, featuring Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway and Jurgen Prochnow. Through its interweave of archival images, testimonies of survivors, and readings of first hand accounts, the film puts the viewer on the streets of Nanking and brings the forgotten past to startling life.

Nanking is a testament to the courage and conviction of individuals who were determined to act in the face of evil and a powerful tribute to the resilience of the Chinese people – a gripping account of light in the darkest of times.

Movie Review:

“Nanking” is a film that derives a devastating power from its staid remembrance of humanity’s capacity for suffering, its capacity for evil and its capacity for good. It catalogues one of the most horrifying events in the history of the continent. As an overture for the Second World War, the Rape of Nanking was hell on earth. Nanking, the then bustling capital of China, was savagely brutalised by the invading Japanese military force in the summer of 1937. First, the air raids began tearing through the city’s economy, devastating the lives of its citizens, leaving them helpless to the inevitable slaughter by the approaching troops. As the city’s expatriates and those with money scurried to flee, a foreign contingent made up of the clergy, teachers and professionals stayed behind to protect and aid the destitute.

Directors Bill Guttentag and Bill Sturman pay tribute to those 22 men and women whose courage and kindness enabled them to establish a provisional safety zone that provided refuge for over 200,000 civilians, despite being outnumbered by a belligerent army angered at having the “eyes of the world” on them. Somewhere between being a cogent docudrama of heroism and a harrowingly powerful documentary of an unfathomable catastrophe, the vivid characterisations of these Americans and Europeans are crafted through the film’s well-envisioned and excellently staged readings by its weathered performers that include: Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway, Stephen Dorff and most notably Jurgen Prochnow. The letters and anecdotes of the expatriate saviours that provide the point-by-point narration carries with it a cutting, painful urgency and is delivered with compelling ideas of responsibility and personal anguish by the thespians and various composite characters.

Much of the film’s haunting intensity comes from its use stock footage to recall the horrors of the past. The seamlessly inducted black and white archival footage of wartime atrocities capture the sorrow and ad hoc sentiments of people long gone, even as their cries and pain linger and reverberate throughout history. It adds to its sentience by summoning the voices and memories of Chinese survivors, their tears and pained expressions leading the way to the film’s most enduring interviews. When one interviewee recalls how his mother breastfed his infant brother even as she was dying from being bayoneted through the chest, this anecdote ominously carries with it the burden of indescribable truth and inexplicable iniquity and a discovery of unknown depths of madness. Then the interviews with the surviving Japanese soldiers show remorselessness and the descriptions of the matter-of-fact executions and acts of depravity convey a sense that living through the war has changed these men irreparably. The footage and interviews show how the perspectives seen through the eyes of humanity are reconfigured during times of war when sin becomes justified and decency is abandoned.

The shared human consciousness between the foreigners and ravaged citizenry is indelibly considered in Prochnow’s recital of the German businessman and Nazi sympathiser John Rabe’s journal entry, a detail from memory made fecund by time: "Shouldn't one make an attempt to help them? There's a question of morality here, and so far I haven't been able to sidestep it."

This pronouncement is a scathing indictment of the denials, and of the deliberate obscuration of truths so oppressive that it is met with ethical and universal repercussions. The preclusions of accountability are present even today, as other parts of the world are mired in invasions, Rabe’s conundrum is still a relevant inquiry that is responded with an uncomfortable silence.

Movie Rating:

(Stunningly powerful documentary filmmaking and an elegant monument to its heroes)

Review by Justin Deimen



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