Nanking

"Excellent"

Nanking Review


Four years before Pearl Harbor, Japan was already on the march in China, grabbing territory in its quest for imperial expansion. After Shanghai fell, Japanese troops set their sights on Nanking, the capital of China at the time. It was just 160 miles up the Yangtze River.

The events later known as the rape of Nanking happened quickly, over just six horrific weeks at the end of 1937 and into 1938, and because the city was so cut off at the time and the war went on for eight more years, much of the story went untold for decades. It wasn't until writer Iris Chang documented the tragedy in her 1998 book The Rape of Nanking that the true scope of the horror was made apparent. It was that book that inspired Nanking, a highly effective documentary that uses interesting techniques to tell its remarkable story.

While 200,000 civilians and soldiers died in Nanking and perhaps 20,000 women were raped in those six weeks, the toll would have been much higher had it not been for a group of 22 foreigners who lived and worked in Nanking and who set out to create a sort of safety zone where refugees from the bombed-out city could be protected. In the film, these brave people are portrayed by actors in costume who read their diary entries into the camera. Most prominent are Mariel Hemingway as Minnie Vautrin, a professor at a women's college whose goal was to save her students; Woody Harrelson as Bob Wilson, one of the last doctors in Nanking; and Jurgen Prochnow as John Rabe, a Nazi businessman who became the de facto mayor of the safety zone.

Interspersed with their testimony are stories from actual Nanking survivors, now old and withered, who recount nightmares of rape, murder, and mass executions. One man recalls seeing both his mother and baby brother bayoneted. A woman, 12 at the time, remembers allowing herself to be raped to save the life of her grandfather, who was trying to protect her from the Japanese. A third witness says a soldier took a huge sword and split his sister in two vertically, from head to toe. Rare footage shot by the foreigners and smuggled out at the time (to disbelief and indifference, it should be noted) is almost unbearable to watch.

Nanking is an important historical record, and it's lucky that the interviews with the eloquent survivors took place before it was too late. It won't be long before all the eyewitnesses are gone. If the film has a flaw, it's that it can't help but put a bit of a Schindler's List spin on the whole tragedy, looking for that glimmer of goodness within the horror and finding it in the foreigners, whom the Chinese survivors describe as "divine." A few questions, such as why the Japanese felt the need to be so inhumane, why they didn't simply kill the foreigners and wipe out the safety zone, and what happened in Nanking throughout the rest of the war, go pretty much unanswered. But that's forgivable. What's important is that the stories have been captured and can be shared with future generations who will need to learn what urban warfare is really like.

Well, it's dark.



Nanking

Facts and Figures

Run time: 88 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 3rd July 2007

Box Office USA: $45.5k

Distributed by: ThinkFilm

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 46 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman

Producer: Bill Guttentag, , Ted Leonsis

Starring: Hugo Armstrong as John Magee, as Chang Yu Zheng, as Lewis Smythe, as George Fitch, as Minnie Vautrin, as Yang Shu Ling, as Mills McCallum, as Bob Wilson

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Jawbone Movie Review

Jawbone Movie Review

Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) remakes the 1949 Ealing comedy classic, although it's difficult...

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

Advertisement
Sleepless Movie Review

Sleepless Movie Review

In remaking the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, the filmmakers have dumbed down both the...

Unlocked Movie Review

Unlocked Movie Review

By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds...

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

A seriously impressive feature directing debut with a star-making central performance, this period British drama...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.