The siege of the Chinese capital of Nanking in 1937, in which 300,000 civilians were killed by the Japanese army, has been chronicled in a number of dramas and documentaries—but none as lush and majestic as this recent Chinese epic. Filmed in elegiac black and white hues, City of Life and Death follows the three-day siege from the initial invasion to its conclusive killing fields. With more archetypes—the regretful Japanese soldier, the saintly Chinese mother—than characters, the film can be heavy-handed and overly brutal, but the cumulative, unflinching results befit such a harrowing tragedy.
Have something to say? Send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in the November-December 2011 issue of Utne Reader.