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City of Life & Death (DVD) (2-Disc Special Edition) (US Version) DVD Region 1

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All Editions Rating: Customer Review Rated Bad 8 - 8 out of 10 (2)

YesAsia Editorial Description

Nanjing, 1937.

The third film from award-winning Sixth Generation director Lu Chuan (Kekexili: Mountain Patrol), City of Life and Death is a devastating account of the massacre that occurred during the Sino-Japanese War when Japanese troops took the city of Nanjing in December 1937, a tragedy remembered as the Rape of Nanking. Shot completely in black and white, this powerful war drama unflinchingly captures the shocking violence and brutality of the Nanjing massacre, from the mass executions of POWs to the raping and slaughtering of civilians, while providing a deeply human portrait of both the victims and the perpetrators.

Rendered in many shades of gray, City of Life and Death touches on the different people whose lives are destroyed by the war: the Chinese soldiers who gave their lives, the foreign missionaries who sheltered refugees, the comfort women, the Chinese civilians, and the Japanese soldiers. In a surprising move for a Mainland Chinese film about the Rape of Nanking, City of Life and Death is told primarily from the perspective of a Japanese soldier, played by Nakaizumi Hideo (United Red Army), who witnesses, commits, and abhors the atrocities of his army. The film's large ensemble cast includes Liu Ye (Curse of the Golden Flower) as a fearless Chinese soldier; Gao Yuanyuan (Love in the City) as a selfless missionary teacher; John Paisley as John Rabe, a German businessman who helped establish the Nanjing Safety Zone and save thousands of civilians; and Fan Wei (Gimme Kudos) as Rabe's secretary, who collaborates with the Japanese to try to save his family. By choosing to humanize rather than demonize, Lu Chuan offers an all the more devastating memory of the Nanjing massacre, and the people who lived and died in the City of Life and Death.

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Technical Information

Product Title: City of Life & Death (DVD) (2-Disc Special Edition) (US Version) 南京!南京! (DVD) (雙碟特別版) (美國版) 南京!南京! (DVD) (双碟特别版) (美国版) 南京!南京! (DVD) (2-Disc スペシャルエディション) (US版) City of Life & Death (DVD) (2-Disc Special Edition) (US Version)
Artist Name(s): Liu Ye | Nakaizumi Hideo | Fan Wei | Gao Yuan Yuan | Qin Lan | Zhao Yi Sui | Jiang Yi Yan 劉燁 | 中泉英雄 | 范 偉 | 高圓圓 | 秦嵐 | 趙一穗 | 江一燕 刘烨 | 中泉英雄 | 范伟 | 高圆圆 | 秦岚 | 赵一穗 | Jiang Yi Yan 劉燁 (リウ・イエ)  | Nakaizumi Hideo | Fan Wei | 高圓圓 (カオ・ユアンユアン) | 秦嵐(チン・ラン) | Zhao Yi Sui | 江一燕(ジャン・イーイェン) Liu Ye | Nakaizumi Hideo | Fan Wei | Gao Yuan Yuan | Qin Lan | Zhao Yi Sui | Jiang Yi Yan
Director: Lu Chuan 陸川 陆川 ルー・チューアン Lu Chuan
Release Date: 2011-10-25
UPC Code: 738329072421
Language: Mandarin
Subtitles: English
Country of Origin: United States, China
Color Information: Black & White
Disc Format(s): DVD
Region Code: 1 - USA, Canada, U.S. Territories What is it?
Package Weight: 108 (g)
Shipment Unit: 1 What is it?
YesAsia Catalog No.: 1024721412

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YumCha! Asian Entertainment Reviews and Features

Professional Review of "City of Life & Death (DVD) (2-Disc Special Edition) (US Version)"

June 1, 2009

This professional review refers to City of Life and Death (DVD-9) (English Subtitled) (China Version)
City of Life and Death could potentially inflame audiences without even being seen. Also known as Nanjing! Nanjing!, the film presents a character-based view of the Nanking Massacre (a.k.a. The Rape of Nanking), a period from late 1937 to early 1938 when the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Nanking (or Nanjing), then the capital of China, and reportedly committed numerous atrocities against defenseless Chinese soldiers and citizens. Marked by terrible acts ranging from arson and looting to murder, rape, and mutilation, the incident is a polarizing issue between Japan and China even sixty years later, and given the rising patriotism on both sides, one could easily expect the China-produced film to carry anti-Japanese sentiments.

Not so fast. While City of Life and Death contains some patriotic elements, the film is not the flag-waving, jingoistic or Japan-demonizing portrayal of the Nanking Massacre that one might expect. Writer-director Lu Chuan (Kekexili: Mountain Patrol) takes enormous care with his portrait of China's darkest days during the second Sino-Japanese War, offering different viewpoints and making both his Chinese and Japanese characters identifiable. The resulting work is far more balanced and human than one might imagine, and yet still possesses the gravity and power befitting a film of its subject matter.

The film picks up in December 1937 following the occupation of Nanking by the Imperial Japanese Army. While pockets of Chinese soldiers continue to resist, Chinese within the Nanking Safety Zone, a demilitarized area housing civilians, suffer despite their supposed protected status. The film follows several characters caught in and among the conflict, starting with Lu Jianxioing (a very charismatic Liu Ye), a Chinese officer leading a small band of soldiers in opposition to the encroaching Japanese. A battle occurs between Lu's company and some Japanese soldiers, among them a young soldier named Kadokawa (Hideo Nakaizumi), whose initial innocence and lack of overt malice make him immediately sympathetic.

The outcome of this battle is never truly in doubt, and neither is the fate of the captured Chinese soldiers. Immediately, the audience gets an eyeful of what the Japanese reportedly perpetrated - beheadings, live burials, marches into the sea, mass executions of Chinese soldiers. Shot in black and white and with minimal mood-affecting music, the film portrays the atrocities almost matter-of-factly. The use of hand-held camera creates some identification and there are occasional manipulative flourishes, but the audience is largely left to their own devices to decide if what they're watching is sensationalistic or not. Lu Chuan succeeds there - City of Life and Death depicts the events powerfully, eliciting emotions less through nationalism and more through universal means.

In perhaps his most unexpected move, Lu Chuan spreads sympathy around, depicting nearly all his focus characters as not merely victims or perpetrators, but flawed people. The residents of the Safety Zone are protected by John Rabe (John Paisley), a real-life Nazi party member known informally as "China's Oscar Schindler" for his efforts in safeguarding the Chinese. However, Rabe is not depicted as the savior some accounts make him out to be; Rabe ends up getting pushed around by the Japanese such that he seems ineffectual. Meanwhile, Rabe's secretary Mr. Tang (Fan Wei, Ticket) seeks to protect his family, and will selfishly sell out his fellow Chinese to achieve his goal. A Japanese officer (Ryu Kohata) carries out atrocities with some relish, and yet he develops a sympathetic affection for select Chinese. One headstrong, prideful young woman (Jiang Yiyan, Deadly Delicious) is shattered after she is raped by Japanese soldiers, but shows bravery when the Japanese call for the forced conscription of Chinese to serve as "comfort women." The characters each play a specific part in Lu's historical tapestry, but the director takes care to make them each human beings.

Lu delivers set pieces too, bringing his characters and situations towards strong dramatic payoffs. Some sequences are wrenching; the fate of the comfort women is one such moment, as are the executions of scores of Chinese soldiers. The opening battle sequence between Lu Jianxioing's men and the Japanese is visceral in presentation, with both sides clearly affected by the chaos and mortal danger of the battlefield. Another emotionally charged sequence features Gao Yuanyuan (Shanghai Dreams, Rob-B-Hood) as a missionary teacher named Miss Jiang, who risks her own life to save individual Chinese, one by one. The character ultimately proves stirring in her nobility, and carries one of the film's most powerful moments.

Gao's character, like most in the film, serves such a specific purpose in this portrait of the Nanking Massacre that one may hesitate to call her three-dimensional. That may be perhaps the biggest flaw with City of Life and Death - that it trades true complexity for a very deliberate and balanced portrayal of the Nanking Massacre and its human cost. This is most seen in the character of Kadokawa, who progresses from naïve innocent to scarred veteran, the atrocities he witnesses ultimately taking such a toll that he becomes nearly the most sympathetic character in the film. However, despite the effectiveness of his character arc, Kadokawa comes off as a situational template - essentially your average human who gets thrown into this harrowing moral quagmire, with his arc seemingly reflective of thematic need rather than the character itself.

That criticism - that City of Life and Death is perhaps too constructed - is only a minor one at present. Some accounts of the Nanking Massacre paint the events as actually worse than Lu Chuan depicts them; some of the more gruesome accounts, like mass graves full of children or death by mutilation, are never truly addressed. That lack of full exploration and the film's careful approach leave room for another director to one day craft a more definitive film on the subject. Right now, however, City of Life and Death is perhaps the closest thing we have, and easily convinces of its relevance. With uniformly strong acting, stunning cinematography, uncommonly thoughtful direction and flawless themes, City of Life and Death is nothing less than a powerful achievement.

What the film may not do is sway the politically-minded. Viewers who place nationalism or politics above Lu Chuan's universal human concerns may be upset by what they perceive to be an apologetic portrait of the parties involved. Some will say the Japanese are not presented as evil enough, others will say they're too evil. Others will say that China has no right to portray themselves as victims given their trespasses in neighboring countries - or even on their own soil. Those issues, and indeed the lack of acknowledgement from both countries and their governments about their past misdeeds, are not meant to be addressed here. It's still likely that some people will use Lu Chuan's work as a reason to air their objections about China, Japan, or perhaps both - but if they do, let's hope they actually watch the film first. Hopefully, City of Life and Death will be embraced, rather than rejected. It should be seen regardless.

by Kozo -

This original content has been created by or licensed to, and cannot be copied or republished in any medium without the express written permission of

Customer Review of "City of Life & Death (DVD) (2-Disc Special Edition) (US Version)"

Average Customer Rating for All Editions of this Product: Customer Review Rated Bad 8 - 8 out of 10 (2)

See all my reviews

November 13, 2010

This customer review refers to City of Life and Death (DVD) (Hong Kong Version)
Really amazing film, okay release Customer Review Rated Bad 6 - 6 out of 10
The film is really really great, don't get me wrong. It even deserves the Criterion treatment. The release has a pretty good video transfer, and good 5.1 Dolby tracks in Mandarin and Cantonese, plus a DTS 5.1 track in Mandarin. Subtitles in Traditional and Simplified Chinese, plus English - not that it needs much subtitles. I think the movie speaks for itself.

The only extra is a 20-30min Behind the Scene video, which doesn't tell us much about the making of the film, but just shows us parts of the filming. It's not really that useful. Would've loved to know more about the treatment to black & white, and what they did in the makeup department to give contrast to the characters. What they did in the battle sequences in terms of explosions, and whatnot.
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See all my reviews

April 2, 2010

This customer review refers to City of Life and Death (DVD) (English Subtitled) (China Version)
Outstanding!!! Customer Review Rated Bad 10 - 10 out of 10
I never really imagine the ordeal the comfort women during the war. In the Philippines, there were also comfort women used by the Japanese soldier and was always staging protest because of what has happen to them during WWII.

After watching this film, i fully understand their claim. The scene of women volunteering themselves for the sake of family is really heartbreaking. The way they being used and thrown when they died is scene you will never forget.

A movie that is so touching that will bring you back in time. Love it a thousand times.
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