Flash Movie Review: City of Life and Death

Our usual ammunition was snowballs and squirt guns, with the occasional water balloon bombs. But when a friend came up with the brilliant idea to freeze the water balloons first, our parents put a stop to it when one friend on the enemy’s side got a black eye from one of our frozen balloons. In wintertime when a heavy wet snow would fall, my friends and I would be outside building forts, stockpiling them with snowballs. During summer we would choose different apartment buildings to be our designated headquarters as we would sneak through alleys and gangways for a surprise attack on our enemies. This was the extent of our war games; it was based on what we learned about warfare in school. From our textbooks and videos we saw war as a distant game filled with bombs and guns. There really was no personal connection for most of us. It was not until new neighbors moved into our apartment building, that I got a deeper understanding of how war affects all of us. One of the new neighbors had a series of numbers tattooed on her forearm. It was the first time I had seen such a thing so I asked her about it. She explained to me how she was a concentration camp survivor which led to multiple questions from me. From that point on, whenever the subject of war came up in class, I would always go and ask her opinion. I discovered there were and had been many horrors done throughout the world.    AFTER defeating the Chinese troops in the city of Nanking during the year 1937, the Japanese troops settled into a six week reign of terror against the city’s residents. Though I was familiar with the history of this event, this film festival winning drama was utterly riveting. Filmed in black and white, the story unfolded with the assistance of seeing things through the eyes of three different individuals. There was Hideo Nakaizumi (Who’s Camus Anyway, Scout Man) as Kadokawa, Wei Fan (Back to 1942, Set Off) as Mr. Tang and Yuanyuan Gao (Beijing Bicycle, Caught in the Web) as Miss Jiang. I thought it was brilliant the way the director shot this historical war movie; there was a direct approach that needed no special effects or swooning melodrama. Honestly, this was one of the most realistic portrayals I have seen in a World War II film. It also had some hard scenes of brutality and horror, besides violence and blood. Speaking to a friend after seeing this picture, she asked me why I watch such movies. The reason is to remind me that war is not a kid’s game. Chinese, Japanese, German and English was spoken with English subtitles.


3 1/2 stars — DVD

About moviejoltz

From a long line of movie afficionados, one brother was the #1 renter of movies in the country with Blockbuster, I am following in the same traditions that came before me. To balance out the long hours seated in dark movie theaters, I also teach yoga and cycling. For the past 3 years, I have correctly picked the major Oscar winners... so join me as we explore the wonder of movies and search for that perfect 4 star movie.

Posted on April 15, 2015, in Drama and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. OH I am so glad you found a film worthwhile of both yours and our time! Thank you for the most excellent review. It’s kind of sad though that many kids are so stuck to their social network devices that they don’t even get to experience tthat you (and I) had throwing snowballs (or making sand castles and wrecking them for warmer climes).

    • It really is true; I see so many kids who are just plugged into some electronic device. I would not mine so much if they were even just reading a book. So sad, but thanks for the comments.

  2. We have this sitting on our Netflix queue to watch. The only reason we have not watched it so far is that my eyes are too tired late at night to cope with subtitles or else I’m in a low mood and can’t cope with the subject matter. After reading your review, however, I’m definitely promoting it to top of the list.

    • Oh good, I cannot wait to hear what you think of it. Reminder, kids should not be in the room when this is on.

      • That’s precisely why we don’t get to watch as many movies as we would like. We have to wait until the kids are in bed and have stopped their “I need water / an extra hug / a particular cuddly toy” wanderings before we can watch anything for grown ups. It’s not a very cinematic experience. 🙂

      • Just wait the experience you mention will soon become a faint memory. Enjoy the times now as you set up your priorities in sitting down to watch a movie from beginning to end in the near future.

      • We were childless for ten years before we had the boys and did lots of movie watching and cinema trips during that period. We, therefore, have no difficulty dealing with this period of movie watching disruption. In the whole scheme of things, their childhoods are so brief. My oldest just turned 12 this past week which seems too quick. There will soon come a time when our boys neither need or want our company and we can get back into a movie watching groove again.

      • Time does go fast and seems to get faster the older we become. Enjoy every minute.

  3. I am reporting back having finally watched this movie. I confess I watched it over a number of days. I will normally only ever split a movie into two watching sessions but I had to break this one down further partly because I started watching so late in the evening each time and partly because the film was so harrowing I could only deal with it in smaller chunks.

    For me it was a five star film. There was nothing I could fault about it. The acting was superb: for an ensemble cast, each character was imbued with depth and layering, regardless of their prominence or role in the plot. The direction and cinematography were strong and the use of monochrome was very effective. I was engaged and absorbed throughout – which is partly why I found it emotionally fatiguing – and my jaw was clenched during some of the most intense scenes. I found it refreshing to watch a war movie that was more focused on the humanitarian impact – especially the toll taken on women and children – than the military action. I am not embarrassed to admit that I wept a few times during the watching of this movie.

    • Thank you so much for letting me know Laura and I am so thrilled you were moved as much as I was with this remarkable film. I love the fact you brought up the humanitarian impact, especially on the women and children. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am you found what I consider a hidden treasure here. Like you I watch films sometimes in chapters due to life.

  4. This looks amazing!
    I lived in Mainland China for just under 2 years and, whilst I was there, I went to see Back to 1942
    I get what you mean, hearing about the horrors from some of my local friends and their families was almost too much to bear
    It’s a shame so few people know the kind of torture and horror that the Japanese enacted on the Chinese during the War
    The Nanking Massacre is unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg, but I’m so glad they continue to make films about it and keep people aware
    Thanks for posting this! Can’t wait to watch it

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