• Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre (Unearthed Films) DVD Review

    Released by: Unearthed Films
    Released on: November 16th, 2004.
    Director: T.F. Mou
    Cast: Liang Zhang, Yung Pan, Shao-tien Hsiung, Wen-ting Chiang, Wen-tu Pan, Hua Shao
    Year: 1995
    Purchase From Amazon

    Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre – Movie Review:

    Unearthed Films gave Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre its worldwide home video premiere in 2004 (excluding a VCD release from Mei Ah that may or may not be a legitimate one). For those unfamiliar with the film, it was made by director of Men Behind The Sun (which focuses on the horrible experiments performed on the Chinese by their Japanese captors in the notorious Camp 731), T. F. Mou.

    In a nutshell, the film follows a regular, average family of Chinese citizens trying to survive during the Japanese occupation of the northern Chinese area of Nanking in 1937. When the mother and father of the family are brutally murdered by the Japanese, the two children and their uncle make a break for it and try to escape. The three of them soon have to split up and the children are left to fend for themselves in amongst the rubble of the war torn city, hiding for their lives from the cruel Japanese forces which are intent on taking over the rest of the country by any means possible.

    That’s about all there is to the storyline. It’s a simple matter of survival for the kids that strings along a very gruesome series of sadistic set pieces throughout a film that pull no punches. A pregnant woman has her unborn baby torn from her stomach and skewered on the end of a Japanese soldier’s bayonet. Chinese men are relieved of their heads for the simple pleasure a Japanese commanding officer gets from practicing with his sword. Severed heads are displayed prominently around the city atop landmarks and city statues that were once beautiful objects of art, now nothing but a mockery of the loss the Chinese suffered at the hands of the imperialist Japanese soldiers. The occupying soldiers don’t hesitate to open fire with machine guns and lay waste to hordes of unarmed Chinese civilians, regardless of the fact that they pose no threat to them. Rows and rows of the dead are denied a proper burial and are instead burned, because it’s easier to get rid of them that way then to put them below the ground. Many of the native men are put up against the walls in their city and shot, just because they can be.

    Black Sun is an ugly, bitter film. It wears its anti-Japanese sentiment proudly on its sleeve in much the same way that some Japanese films air their feelings towards American forces after the Second World War. This is a bloody, brutal movie that, sadly, is also one based very much on historical fact – something that the Japanese government denied until very recently; and even then much of the evidence that the Japanese would have had at one point in time has been destroyed. Mou has done a load of research on the atrocities committed during the Second World War, and it is this research that this, and his earlier film – Men Behind The Sun (that notorious shocker that uses real corpses and contains the death of a supposedly real cat), are based on. Over 300,000 people were killed in the actual Nanking Massacre, so it’s easy to understand the anger behind the film.

    Mou mixes in shots and footage from the period in every once in a while for added realism, and his film goes for the throat. Performances range from the cool and collected (the Japanese commanding officers) to the downright hysterical and panicked (the Chinese citizens) depending on what specifically is happening on screen at any given time. Overall though, the cast of unknown actors (don’t look for A-listers like Chow Yun Fat or Stephen Chow in this movie!) and actresses do a good job of portraying some believable emotion under some rather repulsive situations. The movie is shot well in that everything is framed properly and with a sense of moderate style, but at the same time it is rough enough so as not to feel too polished or overdone.

    Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre – DVD Review:

    Black Sun comes to DVD in a razor sharp 1.77.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looked great by the standards of its day but which also makes you wish this were out on Blu-ray. Regardless, the standard definition picture really brings the colors to the forefront of the image. Reds and earth tones look very clean and natural and the black levels are pretty solid throughout. There is some mild to moderate print damage throughout the film but nothing so detrimental as to take away from the film at all. There’s plenty of detail evident in both the close and far away objects in the film and overall this is a very nice looking transfer, despite some noticeable compression artifacts here and there.

    The audio portion of the DVD, which is handled by way of a Chinese language Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, fares almost as well. Dialogue is crisp and clean and while there are one or two very brief instances of a teensy tiny bit of distortion in the mix, for the most part things sound just fine. The optional English subtitles are free of any typos and are easy to read.

    The first extra feature comes in the form of a 1944 black and white political propaganda film entitled Why We Fight – The Battle Of China. This film funs an hour and two minutes and it gives a very dated but none the less interesting look at the history of the Chinese people. It explains the major technological innovations they've made and paints them as a peace loving nation. In contrast, it goes on to portray the Japanese as having only one goal - the destruction of China. It informs us that the Japanese have been building weapons and technology for years, as they'd been planning this conquest for a long time before it actually happened. There is some very disturbing historical footage contained in here, and many of the events that are portrayed in the film are shown here - and it can be a little difficult, but this, as a historical document, is a very interesting companion piece to the film, especially considering how the world political scene has changed since it was made. Being an American made film, it of course shows U.S. Forces moving in to help out towards the later part of the film, and it also portrays the Chinese as being a 'people that can't be beaten.'

    Up next are a collection of T. F. Mou interviews, presented on the DVD in text format, in which the director discusses his work on this film and on Men Behind The Sun. There are two interviews in total, the first one was conducted by Jason Slater, Mitch Davis and Donato Totaro during the 1999 Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal where Mou was in attendance. This one gives a lot of interesting background information on the history of both films. The second interview, conducted by Jeffrey DeRego, focuses more on the historical aspect of the movie. Both are well worth reading.

    The History of the Nanking Massacre Introspective is a twenty four page text piece that details the events that this film is based on. This document goes into quite a bit of detail on the atrocities committed but never strays from being a serious examination of what occurred during this time. It covers all manner of related topics as well, including the role that the Japanese emperor had in all of this as well as atrocities committed against British and American forces by Japanese soldiers as well. This piece also includes biographical information on the key players in these events.

    Rounding out the extra features are an interactive map of Nanking that gives some brief details on the main locations of the film and the massacre, a photo gallery of production photos, as well as a large photo gallery of historical photos (many of which are photographs of the actual atrocities and are not for the faint of heart - however, by the looks of things, Mou did an admirable job of capturing these events in his recreations as the similarities are eerie).

    The disc also contains trailers for other Unearthed Films DVD releases including Junk, Evil Dead Trap 2, and Boy Meets Girl.

    Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre – The Final Word:

    Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre carefully treads the line between historical war film and out and out exploitation film. Regardless of how you see it, it’s a well-made movie and a powerful film that examines unflinchingly a very ugly chapter in world history. Highly recommended.

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      Heads are severed, bodies are decapitated.

      A decapitated head would be a head that had a second head on it that got removed.