BEIJING – Chinese director Lu Chuan’s City of Life and Death will start a 11-city tour of the United States at the Film Forum in New York on May 11 through a deal with independent distribution company Kino International.
Named Best Picture at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain in 2009, the film’s international acclaim followed a solid domestic box office success sparked by the intensity of the discussion around of the film’s portrayal of one of modern China’s darkest hours, the Nanjing Massacre of 1937, when invading Japanese troops raped and murdered as many as 200,000 Chinese civilians.
The film, titled Nanjing! Nanjing! in Chinese, packed the punch of Picasso's Guernica, calling it “a page of madness in history re-envisioned with level-headedness and technical virtuosity," The Hollywood Reporter’s review said.
The events portrayed in the film still sour Sino-Japanese relations today, and following it release the director and his family received death threats because of what some Chinese felt was Lu’s overly sympathetic portrayal of Japanese soldiers.
Taking four years to complete, Lu shot ambitious battle scenes and navigated state censorship, finally gaining financial backing but nearly losing government approval for politically sensitive film along the way when he decided to tell large parts of the story from a Japanese soldier’s perspective.
“There’s something big and powerful inside the Nanjing story and it is something that survives in our nation but has long been neglected,” Lu said in a statement about the U.S. release. “I am trying to let the audience feel that every victim was once so alive and vigorous."
Lu said he hopes the film, which features performances from a mixed cast of both famous and little-known Chinese actors such as Liu Ye, Gao Yuanyuan and Qin Lan, will someday be shown in Japan.
Widely praised was Lu’s casting of comic actor Fan Wei against type as the Chinese assistant to “good Nazi” John Rabe, an historical figure sometimes referred to as China’s Oskar Schindler.
Shot by cinematographer Cao Yu, City of Life and Death won the Achievement in Directing and Achievement in Cinematography prizes at the 2009 Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The film also won Best Director and Best Cinematographer at the 4th Asian Film Awards, 2010, and won Cao the Best Cinematography prize at the 46th Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan, the Chinese language film-world’s equivalent of the Academy Awards.
Lu previous film, the 2004 title Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, has been partially credited for helping to raise awareness about the near extinction of the Tibetan antelope and also won best picture at the Golden Horse Film Festival the Golden Rooster Awards and the Hong Kong Film Awards.
Lu Chuan’s next project, The Last Supper, is a Qin Dynasty war epic that he said he hopes to imbue with the same gritty realism as City.