on 18 September 2010
I have to say I enjoyed this film, its no Schindler's list but it will inevitably be compared to it. The film is a biopic of John Rabe, a member of the National Socialist Party, working as an engineer for Siemens in China. John has a confused view of the reality of events in Germany having lived in China for 27 years. As the Japanese invade, the film depicts his need to help his fellow human beings and his gradual disillusionment with the political party he belongs to.
I was aware of some of the brutal treatment dished out by the Japanese as they invaded China in 1937 but I didn't know anything about John Rabe or have a real familiarity with actual incidents in Nanking. John is part of the international community in Nanking and is cornered into setting up a free zone to protect Chinese civilians. He along with a number of other brave people do what they can to feed, shelter and protect the civilians from the brutality of Japanese soldiers.
I think the film makers did take some liberties with some of the set pieces and incidents as another reviewer pointed out, however don't let this get in the way of what is a good film.
The film is well made and the special effects top notch, and the director and actors do a good job of making you appreciate some of the attrocities that went on at this time.
Ultimately what the film achieved for me is to spark an interest in finding more out about this time period in China as well as John and the other brave people who helped him. Recommended!
to disagree with the author of the other reviewer I think the fact that they let the film play out and not turn it into a horror fest was a better idea. I think the fact that they show the japanease using bodies to fill holes in the roads, the bodies stacked up all over the place and the murder of civilians going on through out the film was enough to get the message across. they even show actual footage of people being buried alive. I ask, what did he want to see exactly?
the film is well acted through out, and to be honest I don't care about what language it was in. I found it informative and engaging. the story was delivered well and with feeling. like all films about history you take into account that they will change certain aspects for dramatic effect, make up a character here and there, that's film making, they are in it to make money. however the story comes shining through in the 2 hours you have and if your interested in further examination you can go pick up a book on the subject like I do. having read on the subject of nanjing I found I learned something, was reminded of others, and came away feeling that it is a good thing that films like this are made because at least they give people an insight into history,, especially as this is where the second world war really began.
A German-Chinese-French co-production, City of War: The John Rabe Story aka John Rabe suffered the misfortune of coming out internationally at the same time as the much more stark and graphic City of Life and Death, the two films cancelling each other out at the box-office and in critics' minds, which is a pity because it's quite an impressive picture on its own merits.
Telling the story of John Rabe, the head of Siemens in Nanking who saved thousands of lives during the astonishingly brutal rape and destruction of the city by the Japanese by creating a precarious Safety Zone, it avoids turning him into a movie saint and highlights many of the awkward aspects of his character: as well as having a corporate middle management mentality and a patronising view of the Chinese, he was also a member of the Nazi Party who initially supported the Japanese invasion as potentially good for business. True, the film does provide him with a hardline Nazi to contrast his more gently patrician style of corporate exploitation, but it also offers Steve Buscemi's American doctor to constantly remind the audience of his political allegiance as well as Daniel Bruhl's Jewish diplomat to remind the audience what the Nazis stood for. Yet surprisingly and refreshingly it doesn't impose a rude political awakening upon its hero: he never sees the light and, for all his humanitarianism, remains a Nazi to the end. Thanks to Ulrich Tukur's beautifully observed low key performance he remains a figure who triumphs from his ability to manage logistics and negotiations rather than an idealised movie hero, a quiet, ordinary man applying his business skills to the business of saving lives.
The film certainly has one of the more troubling images of recent years for anyone trying to market a movie, with hundreds of refugees cowering under a giant Nazi flag as Japanese planes fly overhead: if the Germans and Japanese weren't allies it's the kind of image you could see Goebbels jumping at. In reality, Japan claimed all the credit for the Safety Zone while Rabe was written out of history and returned to Germany in disgrace, to be arrested by the Gestapo as a Chinese collaborator, forbidden to lecture about what he had seen and died in poverty.
For once the multi-national cast isn't just there for co-production reasons, the film a truly multi-lingual affair that gives supporting players like Buscemi and Anne Consigny real and substantial roles to play rather than mere cameos to add a familiar name in the US and France for the DVD sleeve (though curiously Consigny's real-life character has her name changed from Minnie Vautrin to Valérie Dupres). It's well-staged by writer-director Florian Gallenberger, with convincing special effects that don't take you out of the movie with their artificiality melding well with surviving period buildings in Shanghai to recreate the city, but it's never quite as powerful as it could be. The film does go surprisingly easy on the Japanese atrocities, which tend to happen offscreen or are far more tastefully handled than the sordid events merit (though that didn't prevent production in China being briefly halted over concerns of the film's impact on Sino-Chinese business relationships). Although it draws on some surviving black and white footage that only hints at how bad things are, by concentrating so much on Rabe the film does tend to fail to really convey the sheer overwhelming scale of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. Censorship concerns may have played a part, but it does unfortunately dilute much of the film's impact, though the few glimpses beyond the Zone's walls the film affords are perhaps more striking for their scarcity. Even those were enough for local distributors to boycott the film in Japan, where it remains without a distributor.
Despite Metrodome opting for their usual Swastika-and-strafing-plane artwork that's their default mode for every cheap European war movie they pick up for UK distribution, they've done a decent job with the DVD, offering a good 2.35:1 transfer, half hour making of featurette and trailer.
on 10 April 2011
A surprisingly captivating movie with high production values, which looks absolutley fabulous in blu-ray. I expected a long, sombre, dialogue-laden "serious" storyline, instead we were treated to an action-laden viewing that keeps you on the edge of your seat for 120 minutes! The video quality of this blu ray release is top-notch, with deep saturated colours beautifully balanced with deep blacks, and a high level of sharpness that reveals in fine detail even minuscule objects or characters in far distances. This movie proves you can make an exciting action-packed war movie without resorting to shaky-camera technique (à la Hurt Locker!) which defeats the purpose of having "blu ray" technology, ironically created to allow you to enjoy better clarity of your movies! As for sound, be prepared to turn down the volume if you live in a quiet neighbourhood: the scenes of the aerial attacks by the Japanese war planes make full use of the surround sound system, with ear shattering sound of bullets flying in all directions, and explosions that will work your sub woofer to the max; yet, dialogues are clear, and even with my very limited knowelged of the German language, I was able to make out most words I heard. An intelligent movie with high production values and top video and audio qualities in blu ray.
on 27 August 2011
A very good re-telling of a very little known story. Most history buffs know of the Rape of Nanking in China during the Japanese attempt to dominate that then hapless country.
The story focuses almost entirely on the humanitarian John Rabe, manager of the Nanking branch of the large German owned electrics and industrial conglomerate Siemens Industries in the doomed city. While Japanese atrocities are mentioned and indeed shown they are not over dramatised or excessively graphic.
A very watchable and worthwhile film ------ unlike 'City of Life and Death' which I simply gave up trying to understand - and tossed the half viewed disc into the rubbish bin.
This film never really takes off unlike the many, many CGI planes in this which are flown by the best pilots who ever existed, able to swoop into courtyards and then take off into the ether. But it does look sensational and that is what this film is all about sensation over truth.
I for one think John Rabe deserves better, the acting does not let this film down as there are some excellent performances ostensibly by Daniel Bruhl and Buscemi makes a good fist of a poor script too. It is so waterd down that I actually felt that they were making a big fuss over nothing, yet this was suppose to be depicting the rape of Nanking. Rabes own diaries give enough of an accountto be able to direct the film as to what story they should have told. There is a passing reference to the 'beheading competitions'but it all seems to be happening off screen, the rapes are alluded to however,the only one they attempt to show has the victim being rescued by a child who knows how to use Japanese firearms. They raped women in front of thier families and shot anyone who interferd. This makes it look like a one off incident yet in Rabes own diary he says over 1000 girls were raped in one night with over 100 from the Girls College Ginling alone.
There was a farcical scene where volunteer civilians make a stand against the Imperial Japanese troops and are saved in the nick of time by the threat of international journalists. This is Hollywood at its most obvious and mediocre, trying to be 'Saving Private Ryan' meets 'Schindlers List' and failing to do justice to either concept. The Japanese used civilians for bayonet practice shot, looted raped and burned at will, John Rabe kept asking for order amongst the troops and or protection, this is never presented in the film. It is just a glossed up non war, war film.
And language is another criticism, thay all start by speaking in thier own languages but then all slip into English which strips away even more of the see through veneer of authenticity, the 'German Jew' has a better English accent than his German one- oh very dear.
The only reason I gave it 3 stars is because it at least may get John Rabe some attention for the selfless and inspiring work that he did and it is not the actors fault, as they very nearly pulled it off.
on 31 July 2015
This DVD was bought more for my son he likes proper war films and this one is a prime example it is based around this man who lives in China just before the last war, he is also there when the capital city falls to the Japanese. This man is also a rich ñazi.
on 19 July 2010
Little is heard in the West of the atrocious events surounding the Asian Holocaust perpetrated by Imperial Japan, despite this being of a scale at least comparable to, if not surpassing the Jewish Holocaust.
It is then an audacious move to make a Western film on this niche subject. The obvious parallel to draw is that of Schindler's List, an indisputably excellent piece of cinema. The actors give some excellent performances and succeed in re-creating the important chacters in this adaptation of real events.
I felt that the script could have been a little more engaging and the hotch-potch of different languages (subtitled) until around two thirds of the way through the film was confusing, especially when everyone ended up speaking English anyway towards the end of the film. However, these are really only minor criticisms. My major observation though is that the "Rape of Nanking" seems to have been dreadfully sanitised. Whilst it would be tasteless for the film to descend into a gore-fest, I think that more should have been made of the absolute horror of the Japanese occupation of the city. Anyone who has read Iris Chang's excellent book on the subject will realise immediately what I mean. However, despite the faults, I strogly feel that this is a story which needs to be told and at least there is now some kind of tribute to the merciful work of John Rabe and the International Committee. Watch it if only for this reason alone.
on 6 March 2011
very good in acting and set design
writing structure is silly amateurish with cliched setups that one can see a mile away, like a war film made i the'40's but the acting and the history itself overwhelm this, it is a brutal story
in spite of its claims to accuracy, which seem to be deserved, it portrays the USS Panay as a large steamship, a liner, when it was in fact a pretty small gunboat not sure why they did this, there certainly is a lot of information on the Panay, even documentary footage
(you can view on YOUTUBE)
could use the sensibility of Peter Watkins as in War Games or the battle of Culloden
wished for more on impact on Chinese population in the city,,the onslaught, more on bios of Japanese military leaders, more on what happened to the founders of the security one, what was their fate during WWII and after
apparently they also did not do their homework using the efforts of Iris Chang, I did not see her books or film mentioned in credits
could have done with less whinning on the part of the director in his movie about making the movie, for heaven's sake he was not making Fitzaraldo
on 8 March 2011
A dramatized (though thankfully not hollywoodized) version of John Rabe's diaries. Inevitably compresses and simplifies the story a bit but then this is a movie, and where it departs from the facts this is usually justifiable for the sake of the story. The performances are first rate and Ulrich Tukur in the lead is nothing short of outstanding. Also good is the fact that doesn't try to gloss over either the brutality of the Imperial Japanese Army's conduct, or Rabe's membership of the Nazi party. A run-down bit of Shanghai stands in very well for war-torn Nanking and provides an impressive backdrop.
There are a couple of irrelevant and sentimental or just plain silly scenes that mar the film slightly but they aren't a reason not to see it, by any means. Overall highly recommended.