'City of Life and Death' Gets North American Distribution

The award-winning Nanjing Massacre film will be distributed by Kino International this spring.

BEIJING -- City of Life and Death, the award-winning Nanjing Massacre film by Chinese writer-director Lu Chuan, will screen in North America this spring, Kino International, the New York-based independent theatrical distribution company, said on Tuesday.

Winner of the top prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 2009, City, called Nanjing! Nanjing! in Chinese, is set to premiere May 11 at the Film Forum in New York City, more than a year after the film was pulled from a slot in the 2010 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Called a “truly a masterpiece” by The Los Angeles Times, City was praised -- and nearly equally reviled -- in China for Lu’s balanced portrayal of Japanese soldiers pillaging China in 1937, killing about 250,000 Chinese civilians.

The controversy surrounding the film, which Lu, made for roughly $12 million, helped it gross $10.2 million in its opening weekend in China.

The record-breaking hit by Lu, who previously directed Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, drew praise from Chinese impressed by its portrayal of courage and sacrifice in wartime; but it also drew Lu death threats of “traitor” for imbuing one of the film’s Japanese soldier characters with a sympathetic human face.

City won Lu the Achievement in Directing award at the 2009 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, where director of photography Cao Yu also won, taking home the Achievement in Cinematography prize.

City was pulled from Palm Springs in January after the state-run China Film Group protested the event's inclusion of a film about the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who China's leadership consider a separatist.

Kino also will release City in Canada as a part of a deal negotiated with the Creative Artists Agency’s Beijing office, where Jonah Greenberg represents Lu, now 39.

Lu now is working on his first war epic, a third-century B.C.E., Qin Dynasty story about the battle between two warlords for control of what is today central China. The film, whose working title is King’s Feast, stars actor Liu Ye and, like City, is backed by the Stellar Media Group.

The Nanjing Massacre last week was announced as the subject of director Zhang Yimou’s next film, the $90 million 13 Flowers of Nanjing, starring Christian Bale.