BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE (Hei Tai Yang: Nan Jing Da Tu Sha)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Sound format: Mono
Dramatized account of events in 1937-38, when Japanese military forces overran the city of Nanking, unleashing a wave of barbarous cruelty on the defenceless population.
Though hyped by its director as a sincere depiction of China's darkest hour, BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE will be remembered chiefly for its exploitation trimmings, such as the scene in which a sneering Japanese soldier uses his bayonet to cut a foetus from the womb of a pregnant Chinese woman. It sounds horrific, but the incident is staged with freak-show explicitness more likely to generate laughter than horror - until one remembers that such things *did* happen during this period, and much worse besides...
In narrative terms, the film offers a curious mixture of gruesome horror and earnest recreations of historical events, punctuated by lengthy scenes in which high-ranking Japanese officials argue the merits (or not) of their behavior toward 'enemy' civilians. Unlike the scenes of carnage, however, these dialogue exchanges are rendered with little or no visual flair, a stylistic conceit which serves the demand for historical accuracy whilst simultaneously blunting any possible sympathy the audience may develop for the Japanese characters. Director Mau Dui-fai - billed as 'T.F. Mous' - was previously responsible for such see-'em-and-vomit items as LOST SOULS (1980) and the notorious MEN BEHIND THE SUN (1988), and here he demonstrates an aptitude for sideshow theatrics which renders him uniquely suited to the subject at hand.
For all its sensationalism, however, the movie is distinguished by an extraordinary *lack* of melodrama. Mau depicts the worst horrors (rape, decapitation, mass shootings and burnings) with po-faced solemnity, lapsing into carnival grotesquerie only when the pace threatens to flag. Those looking for sleazy thrills will get their money's worth, but "Black Sun" straddles the gap between commercial exploitation and journalistic integrity, and takes few prisoners along the way. Performances by a largely unknown cast are uniformly fine, and production values are top-notch for such downmarket fare.
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