Beijing New Picture Film Co., EDKO Film, New Picture Company,
Christian Bale, Paul Schneider, Ni Ni, Xinyi Zhang, Tony Dawei, Atsuro Watabe, Tianyuan Huang, Shawn Dou, Kefan Cao
In 1937, just 4 years before Pearl Harbor, the Japanese has begun it’s second invasion of China. They have taken the coast cities due to their naval power but have moved in to conquer Nanking, at this time the capital of China. What resulted is the murder of anywhere from 200,000-400,000 civilians including the rape and murder of tens of thousands of Chinese men, women, and children. John Miller (Christian Bale) is a mortician who has been hired to go to the cathedral to bury the priest who served there. On his way through the fighting, he meets some of the girls who live in the monastery who guide him there. An alcoholic and a thief and an unbeliever, he starts out wishing to sleep in a nice bed and search for money and wine and enjoy himself. Then a cast of prostitutes from the brothel near the river arrive and demand sanctuary in the cathedral. As time passes John must learn character and responsibility of both the prostitutes and the school girls falls upon him. Without him, there is no hope for any of them. This is based on the diary of one of the school girls who was able to survive to tell the tell of the events that happened. This is a haunting story that really happened, but one you won’t soon forget.
This had to be the best film I’ve seen from last year. This is certainly Christian Bale’s best work. It’s a Chinese film, so half of it is in Chinese, the rest in Japanese and English. Of course they could have dubbed this film, but that literally would have killed it. John cannot speak Mandarin or Japanese (other than a little bit he picked up) but some of the women and girls know some English. Most of the Japanese soldiers do not understand Mandarin either, but some do, and others can speak a little English. So by having each of the characters speak in the language he knows, or one he can translate the movie has a realism that would be completely lost by dubbing. So don’t be turned off by the subtitles, it adds a whole lot to the film. Second, it’s long! It’s over 2 1/4 hours. But don’t be afraid by that either, as there is nothing unneeded in this film that is in here, and you’ll be sorry when it’s over. Finally, it’s harsh, but in a soft way. There is child rape and mutilation, but if anything so horrible could be done in a tasteful way, it is here. Nothing is really shown that does not need to be and we can feel the horror without actually seeing the acts of torture.
This stunning film, the largest box office of any Chinese film, did not get a chance in the theaters in the US. This supposedly was to punish Mr. Bale for his sympathy to a certain Chinese dissident. That is a real shame, but I’m afraid that it might have been overlooked anyway at a time when we seem to be much more into superheroes and car chases than historical pieces, but I am hoping now that it is available on DVD that it will get the attention it deserves. I will never forget this horrible event in history.
Like other terrible events there are those who deny this ever happened, but I believe the historical documentation stands on it’s own. It’s a fact. After the Japanese lost WWII, the key officers who were responsible for this event were tried and executed. Feel free to read this stunning article from Wikipedia by clicking this sentence.
What a wonderful experience watching this film, but oh, so sad what happened.