Nanking (2007)

Nanking (2007)
  • Time: 88 min
  • Genre: Documentary | History | War
  • Directors: Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman
  • Cast: Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway, Stephen Dorff, Hugo Armstrong, Rosalind Chao


“Nanking” tells the story of the rape of Nanking, one of the most tragic events in history. In 1937, the invading Japanese army murdered over 200,000 and raped tens of thousands of Chinese. In the midst of the horror, a small group of Western expatriates banded together to save 250,000 — an act of extraordinary heroism. Bringing an event little-known outside of Asia to a global audience, “Nanking” shows the tremendous impact individuals can make on the course of history. It is a gripping account of light in the darkest of times.

One comment

  • Without the focus on the heroic efforts of a small group of European and American expatriates, Nanking the film would be a near unbearable experience. The Nanking Massacre, or The Rape of Nanking as it’s widely referred to, took place over a 6 week period in 1937. The Chinese capital city was invaded by Japanese troops, resulting in 200,000 (or more depending on varying estimates) innocent people raped and slaughtered. Tales of civilians being forced to have sex with corpses or family members, unborn foetus’s being cut out of their mother’s belly with bayonet’s, or the gang-rape of small girls and boys are all confirmed here. But Nanking achieves its power not through shocking and repulsing but by showing the triumph of the human spirit in the face of hell on Earth.

    Although plenty of archival footage is used – from the beautiful, pulsating Nanking sitting proudly as China’s capital, to it’s destruction through heavy bombing – a bulk of the film consists of readings by actors of diary entries written by the likes of Nazi party member John Rabe and American missionary Minnie Vautrin. Rabe and Vautrin were part of a small, wealthy group of men and women who decided against fleeing Naking, and set up a ‘Safety Zone’ inside the city. The actors, including the likes of Jurgen Prochnow, Mariel Hemingway, Woody Harrelson and Stephen Dorff, are earnest and understated in their delivery, and this helps give these moments an urgency, when it could have come off as trying to add some Hollywood gloss to a devastating event.

    The Japanese agreed to the implementation of the safety zone, but their soldiers would parade the grounds, raping women at will and dragging men off to be executed on mass for being suspected enemy soldiers. Still, the protection offered by Rabe, Vautrin, Bob Wilson et al is estimated at being responsible for the survival of 200,000 Chinese lives. This is hard stuff to watch, one of the most despicable war crimes ever committed – interviews with Chinese survivors and seemingly remorseless and disconnected Japanese soldiers hit particularly hard – but this is essential viewing, proving that in order to move forward, we must look back.

    Rating: 4/5

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