City of Life and Death (2011) - Rotten Tomatoes

City of Life and Death (2011)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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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 Japanese soldier, Fan Wei as the aid to a German humanitarian worker, and Gao Yuanyuan as the head of a refugee camp. Lu relays the events directly and straightforwardly, with a careful avoidance of sensationalism and excessive sentimentality, and uses the chronicle to meditate on the insanity of war for all of those involved. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovimore
Rating: R (for wartime violence and atrocities including sexual assault, and for some sexuality and brief nudity)
Genre: Art House & International, Drama
Directed By: ,
Written By: Lu Chuan
In Theaters:
On DVD: Oct 25, 2011
Cinema Ventures - Official Site


Ye Liu
as Lu Jianxiong
Gao Yuanyuan
as Miss Jiang
Wei Fan
as Mr. Tang
Jiang Yiyan
as Xiao Jiang
Liu Bin
as Xiaodouzi
John Paisley
as John Rabe
Beverly Peckous
as Minnie Vautrin
Qin Lan
as Mrs. Tang
Sam Voutas
as Durdin
Yao Di
as Tang Xiaomei
Zhao Yisui
as Shunzi
Yuanyuan Gao
as Miss Jiang
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for City of Life and Death

All Critics (47) | Top Critics (16)

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.

Full Review… | October 7, 2011
Detroit News
Top 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.

Full Review… | September 22, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle
Top 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.

Full Review… | July 8, 2011
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top 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.

Full Review… | July 7, 2011
Seattle Times
Top Critic

Here, in bloodless miniature, is the true obscenity of war.

Full Review… | June 24, 2011
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | June 23, 2011
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic

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....

Cynthia S.

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.

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

Bruce Bruce

Super Reviewer

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