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A different take on Nanjing Massacre

ANOTHER Nanjing Massacre film - this one about China's Oskar Schindler - has opened nationwide, depicting the efforts of a German businessman/Nazi Party member to save innocents in Nanjing. Xu Wei reports.

One week after the debut of Lu Chuan's "City of Life and Death" - the Nanjing Massacre as seen through the eyes of a Japanese recruit - an acclaimed and less disturbing Nanjing Rape film has opened in China.

The biopic "John Rabe," which opened yesterday, describes the efforts of German businessman Rabe to help set up a shelter in Nanjing for more than 200,000 Chinese citizens during 1937.

Rabe is sometimes called "China's Oskar Schindler" after the businessman who saved Jews in Europe.

Lu's bold film featuring a distraught Japanese soldier is considered shocking by many people used to standard portrayal of the invaders in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). It is also extremely graphic and violent, shot in black and white with handheld cameras.

The Sino-German coproduction "John Rabe," however, is more reassuring and uplifting, about the best of human efforts.

Directed by Oscar-winning film maker Florian Gallenberger, it stars German actor Ulrich Tukur as Rabe, a German engineer-businessman operating in a neutral Safety Zone.

American actor Steve Buscemi plays a doctor who helps Rabe and Chinese mainland actress Zhang Jingchu plays a Chinese student who uses her camera to record the atrocities committed by Japanese troops.

Last week, "John Rabe" won four Lola prizes at the annual German Film Awards, the German Oscars, including best film, best actor, best costume design and best art direction.

The film is widely expected to represent Germany in next year's US Academy Awards for best foreign-language feature.

Director Gallenberger once said he hoped the film would be shown in Japan and encourage Japanese to face their past.

The film doesn't depict Rabe as a great hero, instead it portrays him as an ordinary person who did extraordinary things. Like others, Rabe experiences fear, confusion and depression, but pushes ahead with his humanitarian actions.

Due to Rabe's long experience in China working for Siemens AG and his familiarity with Nanjing, he was elected head of the International Committee for the Nanjing Safety Zone.

When the city was occupied by the Japanese army, he used his Nazi Party membership and appealed to the German-Japanese bilateral pact to try to protect civilians. That failed, but it also created a delay that allowed people to flee.

After his return to Berlin in 1938, Rabe was arrested for collaborating with the Chinese. Twelve years later he died in Berlin, an impoverished man, but he was memorialized as a hero by the Chinese people.

Before shooting, Gallenberger and the production visited Nanjing, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and Rabe's former residence. Most of its locations, however, were filmed at Shanghai's old factories, hotels, docks and alleys.

The film's trophies and successful media screenings around the country are expected to improve its box office performance. "City of Life and Death," however, will be its biggest rival during the Labor Day holiday.

Critic Chen Hua says he was more impressed by "John Rabe" and its message of peace, selflessness and love.

"City of Life and Death," filmed in black and white with handheld cameras, has a gritty and realistic style. Various figures, including a Chinese schoolteacher, and interpreter and others are depicted, but at the center is the traumatized young Japanese recruit from a church school.

"John Rabe" has "a more mature shooting style, from the portrayal of characters to its rhythm and music," Chen adds.

"City of Life and Death" has already taken about six million yuan (US$882,000) at the chain's box office, according to Wu Hehu, deputy director of Shanghai United Cinema Lines.

Wu says each of the two films has a distinct style and captures different aspects of carnage.

"However, 'John Rabe' takes a look at the massacre's cruelty and inhumanity from a less distressing and somewhat more distant angle and it centers on his own heroic stories," Wu says.

He does not view the different viewpoints of the two films as a negative thing. "It can raise the awareness of the younger generation of this special period of history."

"John Rabe" is screened in its German original and a Chinese-dubbed version, both with English and Chinese subtitles. Check C7 for where to watch the film.


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