Critics Spar Over Award-Winning <i>City of Life and Death</i>
City of Life and Death (dir. Lu Chuan)
Lu Chuan’s controversial Nanjing Massacre movie City of Life and Death picked up the Best Director award at the fourth Asian Film Awards, held during the Hong Kong International Film Festival. While the film continues to gain attention following its successful theatrical run in China and international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last year, it has yet to be shown theatrically in the US, following an aborted spring release with National Geographic.
Meanwhile, it’s generated a bit of a quarrel among film critics. Shelly Kraicer, who reviewed the film earlier on our site, issued a lengthier critique in Cinema-scope. The review has drawn the ire of Asian film stalwart Tony Rayns (who happens to co-program the Asian film selections at the Vancouver Inernational Film Festival), who issues seven bullet-pointed rebuttals to Kraicer’s review.
On the Cineaste website, dGenerate’s Kevin B. Lee has his own take.
The imperative to honor the longstanding domestic account of the tragedy, offset by the desire to avoid fraying international ties, and further complicated by the desire to appeal to a global audience with its own expectations of art-house entertainment, makes for one of the most compelling filmmaking gauntlets to be found. These three agendas – political, cultural, commercial – wage a battle within City of Life and Death that’s as compelling as the one the film depicts. The film certainly qualifies as an “incoherent text,” to borrow Robin Wood’s phrase, informed by competing social ideologies and commercial ambitions that result in a work of fascinating dissonance.
Full review here.
For an alternative view of the Japanese occupation of China and the story of “comfort women” – women who were forced to sexually serve Japanese soldiers – check out Ban Zhongyi‘s extraordinary documentary Gai Shanxi and Her Sisters – screening at Asia Society on April 9.