City of Life and Death (Chinese: 南京! 南京!; pinyin: Nánjīng! Nánjīng!) is a 2009 Chinese film directed by Lu Chuan, marking his third feature film. The film deals with the Battle of Nanjing and its aftermath (commonly referred to as "The Rape of Nanking" or the "Nanking Massacre") during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The film is also known as Nanking! Nanking! or Nanjing! Nanjing!.
While originally slated for a 2008 release, the director-general of the Chinese Film Bureau announced in September that the film would be delayed to an early 2009 release. The film was eventually released on April 22, 2009 where it became a box-office success, earning RMB150m (approximately 20 million dollars) in its first two and a half weeks alone.
City of Life and Death takes place in 1937, during the height of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Imperial Japanese Army has just captured the then-capital of the Republic of China, Nanjing. What followed was known as the Nanking Massacre, a period of several weeks wherein massive numbers of Chinese prisoners of war and civilians were killed.
The film tells the story of several figures, both historical and fictional, including a Chinese soldier, a schoolteacher, a Japanese soldier, a foreign missionary, and John Rabe, a Nazi businessman who would ultimately save thousands of Chinese civilians.
Filming began in Tianjin in October 2007, working under a budget of ¥80 million(US$12 million), and was produced by the China Film Group, Stella Megamedia, Media Asia and Jiangsu Broadcasting.
The film endured a lengthy period undergoing analysis by Chinese censors, waiting six months for script approval, and another six months for approval of the finished film. It was finally approved for release on April 22, 2009. However, the Film Bureau did require some minor edits and cuts, including a scene of a Japanese officer beheading a prisoner, a scene of a woman being tied down prior to being raped, and an interrogation by a sympathetic Japanese officer of a Chinese soldier.
City Of Life And Death was released on 535 film prints and 700 digital screens on April 22 grossing an estimated $10.2m (RMB70m) in its first five days. This made it the second biggest opener in 2009, after John Woo's Red Cliff Part II which opened with $14.86m (RMB101.5m) in its first four days of release. The film is also the highest new box office record for director Lu Chuan, whose second feature Kekexili: Mountain Patrol grossed $1.26m (RMB8.6m) in 2004.
The film won the top prize at the 2009 San Sebastian Film Festival.
The film won Achievement in Directing (Lu Chuan) and Achievement in Cinematography (Cao Yu) at the 2009 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
City of Life and Death was nominated for the following awards in the 46th Golden Horse Awards:
Won: Best Cinematography (Cao Yu)
Nominated: Best Visual Effects
Despite its success, City of Life and Death also skirted controversy upon its release in mainland China. In particular, many criticized the film's sympathetic portrayal of the Japanese soldier, Kadokawa, with Lu even receiving online death threats to both himself and his family. Early in its release, criticisms of the film on the Internet nearly caused it to be pulled from theaters, only to be saved by the personal support from Li Changchun, a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China.
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