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Review: City of Life and Death

A visceral portrait of the hopeless
By TOM MEEK  |  June 2, 2011
3.5 3.5 Stars

The events surrounding the 1937 invasion of Nanking (the then capital of China) by Imperial Japan are debated by both countries. In this harrowing dramatization of the six-week siege, also known as the Rape of Nanking, Chinese director Lu Chuan attempts to provide insight and balance by representing viewpoints of the occupied as well as that of several Japanese soldiers. Shot in opulent black and white, the atrocities never cease. Captured Chinese soldiers are lined up and executed and women are systematically raped, or forced into "comfort" service until they expire. Ironically, the one savior is a Nazi businessman (John Paisley) who sets up a safe zone for survivors. The recreation of the military campaign stuns in its scope and choreography, making this the most visceral war film since Saving Private Ryan — a portrait of the hopeless in the grasp of a sadistic oppressor.

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