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City of Life and Death (2011)



Average Rating: 8.6/10
Critic Reviews: 16
Fresh: 15 | Rotten: 1

No consensus yet.



liked it
Average Rating: 4.1/5
User Ratings: 3,542

My Rating

Movie Info

Within the scope of Asian history, few events carry the ugly and sickening connotations of the Rape of Nanking. Japanese forces invaded that Chinese city on December 9, 1937, and in the six weeks to follow, soldiers raped thousands of women and annihilated hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Director Lu Chuan directs this black-and-white docudrama account of that horrifying six-week period, with the benefit of an ensemble cast that includes Hideo Nakaizumi as a conscience-stricken


Art House & International, Drama

Lu Chuan

Oct 25, 2011


Cinema Ventures - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (47) | Top Critics (16) | Fresh (43) | Rotten (4) | DVD (2)

It is not an easy film, and perhaps a touch too relentless, but it is a great reminder of how bloody, mad and awful this world can be.

October 7, 2011 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Lu Chuan makes this feature film soar by telling the story both through the eyes of the Japanese occupiers and the defenseless Chinese civilians in the ancient capital. It makes the savagery all the more senseless.

September 22, 2011 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Exquisitely shot in black and white, with a rare attention to detail and dramatic complexity, "City of Life and Death" is a timelessly great film that commands our collective attention.

July 8, 2011 Full Review Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic IconTop Critic

In almost any form, the story of the Nanking atrocities can leave you profoundly shaken. But Lu Chuan's version may be the most compassionate and emotionally satisfying treatment to date.

July 7, 2011 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
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Here, in bloodless miniature, is the true obscenity of war.

June 24, 2011 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Lu tells the heartbreaking, nearly unbearable story with compassion, controlled fury and unflinching realism.

June 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Reminiscent of exactly the sort of "important war movie" Hollywood makes.

July 20, 2012 Full Review Source: Cinemania

...among the greatest war films ever made. Rich in humanist themes and absolutely unflinching in its depiction of the moral chaos and physical violence of war.

January 19, 2012 Full Review Source: Cinema Writer
Cinema Writer

City of Life and Death puts a convincing image to the abstract history.

December 17, 2011 Full Review Source: Turner Classic Movies Online
Turner Classic Movies Online

There is real beauty in its effort to comprehend the incomprehensible.

June 24, 2011 Full Review Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Chinese filmmaker Chuan Lu has tackled a vast and ambitious subject in City of Life and Death. I knew very little about the siege on Nanjing (or Nanking, as Westerners have long referred to it) in 1937; I feel as if I understand it now, in all...

June 17, 2011 Full Review Source: Leonard Maltin's Picks
Leonard Maltin's Picks

Despite a puzzling, ridiculously benign view of Japanese sex slaves, this is a brutal depiction of the bestiality of the Japanese Rape of Nanjing that is long overdue.

June 17, 2011 Full Review Source: Tolucan Times
Tolucan Times

There is no way to soften the events presented, even though Lu spares us some documented atrocities that are as bad or worse than what we see. The result is both moving and exhausting.

June 16, 2011 Full Review Source: Brand X
Brand X

A work of grim art told with relentlessly restless curiosity about the human capacity for survival.

June 10, 2011 Full Review Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Honolulu Star-Advertiser

The most visceral war film since Saving Private Ryan - a portrait of the hopeless in the grasp of a sadistic oppressor.

June 2, 2011 Full Review Source: Boston Phoenix
Boston Phoenix is this humanity, standing beside horrific crimes against same, which makes "City of Life and Death" one of the greatest war films.

May 31, 2011 Full Review Source:

Audience Reviews for City of Life and Death

Disturbing. Intense. Sickening. This is one of the most harrowing, and unflinching, accounts of human barbarity ever put to film. Solidly done. Definitely not for the squeamish....
September 30, 2013

Super Reviewer

A refugee camp comes under siege from the Japanese army during the fall of Nanjing during the Second World War. Beautifully shot in black and white and telling the harrowing story of the mass murder and horrific mistreatment of the population of the Chinese capital, City Of Life And Death can be seen as China's equivalent to Schindler's List but I'd have to say that Spielberg's classic at least had a tale of heroism at its centre. The horrifying events depicted here have more in common with the likes of Downfall; the environment of Nanjing is so hellish, the closest we come to a "good guy" is a Nazi! Based on true events, I'm not sure how much of it is completely accurate as even this hardened cynic found it hard to believe that only a single Japanese soldier acted with conscience or compassion, but Hideo Nakaizumi's performance as the aforementioned protagonist, sickened and traumatised by the actions of his compatriots works well as a way to avoid demonizing the Japanese and as an objective standpoint through which to view the events as they unfold. One of those films that's powerful rather than enjoyable, City Of Life And Death is another in the line of beautifully crafted testaments to man's seemingly infinite capacity for inhumanity.
May 28, 2013
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

I finished watching this film two hours ago and the punch in the stomach I received watching it still hurts. I don't recall having received such a punch in my 40 or so years of film watching. Unlike films such as "Schindler's List" or "Empire of the Sun", this film does not take sides. It's like a candid camera operated by an invisible grand master hidden in the crowd or the rubble. It's just there recording events. As a result, despite the fact that it focuses on the big picture, the individual is not lost: Both the Chinese and the Japanese, each and every one of them, in huge crowds are real believable characters. This gives the viewer a grand and horrible sense of presence which is what makes it so painful. It would take courage to watch it again. 5 Stars. 8-7-12
September 20, 2012
Bruce Bruce

Super Reviewer

Once in a great while a film comes along that is not only brilliant and artistic but meaningfully important. This is one of those films.
February 20, 2012
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • City of Life and Death (Nanjing! Nanjing!) (DE)
  • City of Life and Death (Nanjing Nanjing) (UK)
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