Starring: Chin Han, Rene Liu, Ai Saotome
Director: Wu Ziniu
Running Time: 110 mins
Don’t Cry, Nanking is a Chinese film about a family who arrive as refugees in Nanjing in December 1937 during the Japanese invasion of China, but soon meet with untold tragedy as the Japanese troops occupy the city and launch a reign of terror on its population.
If you know anything about the Nanjing Massacre, you’ll know that it’s a very grisly and traumatic event in history that still provokes strong emotions in many to this day, and that’s something that shines through in stark fashion in Don’t Cry, Nanking. While the film isn’t an exceptional piece of war cinema, it gives an emotive and engrossing portrayal of the period of terror during winter 1937, to the extent that it is a very hard-hitting watch, albeit not one that has the consistency to prove thoroughly enthralling right the way through.
:Starting off with what works best about Don’t Cry Nanking, we have to turn to director Wu Ziniu’s very emotive focus on the history of the event. While the film is on the surface a detailing of what happened in Nanjing, there’s a lot more going on, and one of Wu’s main themes is a very emotional and patriotic look at how Chinese people as a whole were affected by the massacre and the aggression of the Japanese during the period.
In that, while you do get a fully in-depth story about the events of the massacre, there’s a whole lot of emphasis put on the national identity of the Chinese and their survival against immense terror in the form of the ‘Japanese devils’. As a result, there is a strong and often stirring sense of patriotism to the film, giving it a strong energy that drives it well throughout, although it does occasionally come off as a little too jingoistic, and the explicit extent to which it portrays some of the horrors (more on that in a minute) feels a little unwarranted and vengeful, rather than a more objective depiction of history.
Another plus here comes in the form of the more personal story of the main characters, that of the family from Shanghai seeking refuge in Nanjing. Composed of a Chinese doctor and a Japanese woman, as well as their two children, the family proves a fascinating emotional core for the film, bringing a good degree of humanity and intimacy to the story that I felt City Of Life And Death, a later but equally strong depiction of the Nanjing Massacre, was lacking in.
The other biggest success of the movie is portraying the immense scale of terror that befell the city during the winter of 1937, hitting home particularly hard in some of the most intense execution and mass arrest sequences. Again, comparing to City Of Life And Death, which used a very quiet and eerie atmosphere to create tension, Don’t Cry, Nanking employs hundreds of extras, huge sets, and an overall immense production to really allow the magnitude of the event in the eyes of history hit home, something that’s undoubtedly effective right the way through, occasionally even matching up to the likes of War And Peace in its sense of scale.
With that said, however, I felt that the film does unfortunately go a little overboard in its depiction of the scale of the misery and horror that was brought to Nanjing during the Japanese occupation. While it is an undoubtedly devastating event in history that deserves to be demonstrated in as frank terms as possible, the film takes a disappointingly simplistic route in its second and third acts, with too much focus being taken away from the main characters and turned to depictions of mass murder and atrocities.
Again, it’s something that does indeed need to be shown, but this film isn’t able to bring the deeply intimate emotion of the first act to the final act, which would have rendered the events even more heart-wrenching. As a result, the film does drag a little as it fails to establish a good narrative over the course of the final act, and although it still remains a heavy-going and eye-opening watch, it doesn’t quite fulfil the potential of what could have been a truly devastating and emotionally powerful finale to a very strong film, and that’s why I’m giving Don’t Cry, Nanking, a 7.5 overall.