Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre (1994)

Black Sun The Nanking Massacre Poster.jpg

Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre is Tun Fei Mou’s spiritual sequel to the horrifying Men Behind The Sun. It is also the fourth entry into the unofficial Men Behind The Sun series (I refuse to review Men Behind The Sun 2 and 3 because they were made by Godfrey Ho, and as a result, they do not represent the subject matter with dignity). Like the title suggests, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre is a dramatic and graphic retelling of the horrifying massacre of Nanking that occurred during the Second Sino-Japanese war. The movie is dedicated to the victims of the Nanking massacre, and the plot follows many of the documented events that happened during the Nanking massacre very faithfully. However, I found this movie to be much less hard-hitting and much less effective as its predecessor, and a few moments made me raise my eyebrows as to the intentions of this movie and what it was trying to portray.

Firstly, the plot of Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre is an absolute mess. Whereas Men Behind The Sun delivered empathetic, fully developed characters and an intense focus on disturbing realism and historical accuracy, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre offers no character development, over-the-top shock sequences mixed in with real war footage, and questionable historical accuracy. Men Behind The Sun had a direct focus, and the movie retained that focus from beginning to end, creating an incredibly powerful story. In comparison, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre has no focus, and instead, the whole film is comprised of scene after scene of violence against the Chinese with absolutely no connecting characters or emotional impact.

However, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre did contain a few characters that would have been perfect to follow in order ground the action and emotional impact, such as the the surviving Chinese children John and Jean, or the Chinese interpreter who sees everything the Japanese army does, but the film doesn’t focus on them, and instead it focuses on the repeated scenes of cruel treatment towards the Chinese and the discussions between Japanese officers on how they try to justify what they’re doing. As one can imagine, without a character to ground the action and relate to, the movie’s violence becomes incredibly repetitive after a short while. In fact, the Japanese officers are the characters that the movie focuses on for the majority of the running time, but, as a viewer, I didn’t care about the Japanese officers. They were the villains, and they were portrayed as uncaring maniacs. As much as I found the character of Shiro Ishii in Men Behind The Sun a deplorable character, he was still portrayed as somewhat human: by the end of the movie, you feel his defeat as everything he had worked for is to be lost and forgotten. All that motivated the Japanese officers in this movie was the rape and murder of the Chinese, and I didn’t want to empathize with them and their struggles with refugee camps and Emperor Hirohito’s orders, I wanted to be more in touch with the victims. I wanted to feel their pain and sympathize for their horrific situation at the hands of the Japanese, but that wasn’t what the movie delivered. All in all, I found the characters forgettable, I became desensitized to the violence, and I lost interest in what the movie was trying to tell me. If there was a empathetic, relatable character to follow and a plot that was balanced and focused I could have appreciated what the movie was trying to tell me a whole lot more.

As well as having an unfocused plot, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre contains a few scenes that make me raise my eyebrows at the film’s intended realism. These few scenes are intended purely for shock value and they come off as egregious, unnecessary and incredibly distracting. Because of this, like Men Behind The Sun, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre was criticized for being an exploitation film, and this time, I’m inclined to believe the critics. There’s too much focus on violence and not enough focus on the humanity of the situation. Men Behind The Sun showed the humanity, it showed the struggle and it carved a good balance between shocking and empathetic. In contrast, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre does not show the humanity of the situation: there’s no real struggle, there’s just violence. Unwavering, uncensored, unbelievable violence without any substance to support the emotional impact.

However, that’s not to say that Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre isn’t well made. The film does contain a number of memorable scenes with very striking imagery, however, those scenes are few and far between. I can appreciate the increased size and scope with this movie, but there was too much going on and Tun Fei Mou doesn’t have the skills necessary to give the situation justice. The movie doesn’t use any real corpses (thank god) and instead uses special effects which aren’t the most convincing, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. However, production-wise, I was very disappointed with the movie’s editor. As with Men Behind The Sun, I can’t find out who this person is, but it is definitely not the same person who edited Men Behind The Sun, because the editing for Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre is poor. The film’s pacing is terrible as it just flits from scene to scene without any consideration of the film’s intended effect. Shocking scenes just come and go, they never linger like they did with Men Behind The Sun and the movie definitely suffers because of it. Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre needed its shocking scenes to linger, it needed to stand out like Men Behind The Sun did. In the end, however, nothing technical stands out about this film, it’s all pretty average and forgettable.

After the powerhouse that was Men Behind The Sun, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre was just disappointing. Everything that made Men Behind The Sun an absolute tour de force of cinema was taken away and replaced with mediocrity. The only thing I found shocking about Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre was the scenes of real footage from the Second Sino-Japanese war which was just harrowing to watch. War isn’t entertainment, and unlike Men Behind The Sun which successfully showed the realistic, uncomfortable horrors of Unit 731, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre fails to represent the horrors of the Nanking massacre realistically, and it ends up feeling more like dumb entertainment than a hard-hitting, uncomfortable movie. In conclusion, I recommend that one gives this movie a pass. It may be easier to watch than Men Behind The Sun, but it doesn’t live up to the reputation of its predecessor.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the interesting review. I’d like to ask you, would you consider this movie a propaganda piece? Without denying the historical facts regarding the Nanking massacre of course, but taking the narrative devices into consideration

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. I can see where your coming from. The fact that the movie portrays the Japanese as indistinguishable, unhuman, heartless maniacs with a screwed up ideology fighting a ‘Holy War’ definitely makes a good case for Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre being anti-Japanese propaganda. The overly violent, extreme content definitely backs up this claim because of how shocking the film is trying to be. It’s trying to really make an audience vilify the Japanese officers without giving them any identifiable characteristics that separates one officer from the other. However, if it is a propaganda piece, it’s not a good propaganda piece. It still lacks the empathy needed to create a powerful experience and the end result result feels lackluster at best. It comes off as less of a powerful anti-Japanese propaganda piece and more of a mediocre exploitation film based on real events, an exploitation film that I couldn’t take seriously and, in my opinion, the film was wholly forgettable.

      If anything, I would say that Men Behind The Sun could have been more of an effective propaganda piece, however, Men Behind The Sun isn’t trying to a be a propaganda piece with its loyal, yet emotional villains, symbolic ending and the text at the beginning of the film that states: Friends Are Friends, History Is History. Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre was just a mess of a film that could have been done better, and if it is a propaganda piece, its not a very good one. I can’t confidently say that this film is or is not propaganda, but I can definitely say that thanks to its narrative structure, silly shock scenes and lack of character development, any intention of this film being a propaganda piece is lost in the overall mediocrity and exploitative nature of the film.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have this film on DVD, but could only watch it once, because of the sheer ‘nastiness’ of so many scenes.
    I much preferred ‘City of Life and Death’ (2009), and even ‘John Rabe’, released the same year.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Like

    1. Yeah, this movie is not one to taken lightly, despite how mediocre it may be. The reason I’m covering it is because I covered Men Behind The Sun and this movie is the follow up to say where the line between exploitation and realistic drama lies as Men Behind The Sun was shocking and depressing, whilst this movie was dumb and overtly gratuitous.

      I’ll have to check out City Of Life And Death and John Rabe sometime…

      Liked by 1 person

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