Hei tai yang: Nan Jing da tu sha (Men Behind The Sun 4) (Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre) Reviews
The film was dark and violent but it kept me interested throughout. A tough film to watch but it was a powerful experience.
Most of the time I was watching Black Sun, I was mulling over one question: is this really a Man Behind the Sun film, as it was marketed both here and in its native Hong Kong? It is, I think, in the same sense that Killing Birds had anything to do with the Zombie franchise, or The Ogre anything to do with the Demons franchise. In other words, it was a convenient marketing ploy to draw the rubes to a movie they would probably have not otherwise seen. But where Killing Birds and The Ogre are both awful, awful films after which everyone who went to a theater to see them should have demanded their money back, Black Sun, Mou's final film (to date; while he has not directed for the past sixteen years, he is still alive), may well be his best, in terms of technical filmmaking. It's possible that film wasn't given the Man Behind the Sun brand to expose it to Mou fans (he directed the infamous 1988 film that kicked off the series), but in order to save the brand itself from the execrable second and third films, Laboratory of the Devil and A Narrow Escape, both directed by martial-arts hack Godfrey Ho. (A terrible choice to have anything to do with the franchise... but I digress.)
I'm sure you won't be at all surprised when I tell you that Black Sun takes us back from the 1945 settings of the previous three films in the series to the thirties, given that the subtitle of the film is The Nanking Massacre. The Nanking (/Nanjing) Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, was carried out by the Japanese in December of 1937, and to this day stands as one of history's most hideous war crimes; over the course of ten days, an estimated two to three hundred thousand Chinese nationals were treated, for all intents and purposes, like animals by the invading Japanese army (a variation of the "maruta" treatment given to experimental subjects in the Unit 731 camps, designed to dehumanize the oppressed). Mou, presenting the information in docudrama fashion much as he did in the original Man Behind the Sun, takes us through the Japanese reign of terror through the eyes of two Chinese nationals, the last surviving monk from one of the town's temples and an eight-year-old boy who fled with his younger sister when the Japanese invaded their home, and has since been living on the street, trying to avoid the occupiers.
Mou has a better grasp of the docudrama gig here than he did in 1988. Which is not to say there isn't a great deal of naked emotional manipulation to be had, nor that there are none of the gratuitous shock scenes that made Mou so infamous with Man Behind the Sun. But both have been toned down considerably in this film (there are four or five shots that squeamish audience members should be prepared for, but much of the atrocity is either offscreen or shot with a wide-angle lens from high above the city in order to give a sense of magnitude). But here he backs up his allegations with a great deal of written documentation, usually voice-overed while being shown on the screen, as well as footage from the infamous John Magee footage shot during the Massacre itself (there are a number of scenes where the film will freeze, and then the tableau will fade to black and white, so you can see how Mou has built the action to recreating a still from the Magee film). It's powerful stuff if you're trying to convey to your audience that yes, you're really showing things the way they happened, or as best you can given that very few people who were actually there were alive to tell the tale after the fact.
Interesting, this. I'm not sure I can call it "good", but it's undeniably powerful. ***