NANJING — China’s wartime capital Nanjing staged ceremonies in early December to mark the 70th anniversary of the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Chinese by Japanese troops during the invasion of the city, an incident that has captured the imagination of filmmakers at home and abroad.
The Rape of Nanking, which refers to the eastern city’s name at the time, is a hugely popular theme with helmers, with pics about the issue either recently completed or in the works.
Talking to survivors of the invasion and hearing grim testimonies of rape and murder from now elderly victims, it’s easy to see why the story fascinates scribes and producers.
However, keeping tabs on the projects can be difficult, since political sensitivities force filmmakers to keep low profiles.
Stanley Tong has said his film, “The Diary,” about the event is not meant to be a documentary, while Oliver Stone has been in discussion with Kevin Kent about dramatizing his novel about the massacre.
The Chinese government would prefer movies about Nanjing’s past to serve nationalist interests while doing nothing to annoy Japan, on whose trade it is reliant.
Oscar-winning German helmer Florian Gallenberger has been shooting the story of the Schindler of China, Nazi party member John Rabe who saved hundreds of thousands of lives by setting up a safe area in the city during the attack.
Among those featured in the pic shooting in Shanghai and based on Rabe’s diaries are Ulrich Tukur — whose resemblance to Rabe is remarkable — Steve Buscemi, Daniel Bruehl and up and coming Chinese thesp Zhang Jingchu.
The pic has a budget of $20 million and is a co-production between China’s Huayi Brothers Media Group and Germany’s Hofmann & Voges Entertainment. It is expected to hit theaters at the end of next year.
Simon West’s “Purple Mountain” is a $51 million U.S.-Chinese-Anglo co-production, which is adapted from Iris Chang’s international bestseller “The Rape of Nanking,” and depicts the atrocities through the eyes of a middle-class Chinese mother and daughter.
Hong Kong helmer Yim Ho initially had problems getting his script through for “Nanking Xmas 1937,” which, like many other projects, focuses on foreigners’ efforts to shelter Chinese from the Japanese. With its $35 million budget it has potential to travel.
China Film Group and Jiangsu Broadcasting are reported to have boarded Lu Chuan’s “Nanking! Nanking!” as co-financiers and the project is now shooting in Tianjin.
The $12 million film also has financing from Hong Kong-based Media Asia and Beijing’s Stellar Media. Lu went through five months of wrangling to get approval for the script.
“The Children of Huang Shi,” helmed by former Bond director Roger Spottiswoode, takes the “Rape of Nanking” as a starting point and then follows British journalist George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who led a group of orphaned children to safety in a trek across China. Radha Mitchell, Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-fat also feature.
The feature “Nanking” is reportedly the most watched documentary in Chinese history.
Co-directed by Oscar-winning docu director Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, and produced by Ted Leonsis, former vice chairman of AOL, “Nanking” mixes archive footage and readings by actors such as Woody Harrelson, Stephen Dorff, Jürgen Prochnow and Mariel Hemingway.
As well as the high-profile pics, there are numerous smaller documentaries and films being made, including controversial Japanese takes on the event saying it never took place.
A correction was made to this article on Dec. 26.