NANJING — The 1937 invasion by Japanese troops of the city that was then China’s capital was dubbed “The Rape of Nanking,” with memories of that massacre still causing anguish to many Chinese. Now a slew of films will revisit the trauma.
The most high-profile is a $50 million-$60 million project being put together by producer Gerald Green’s Viridian Entertainment and by the Jiangsu provincial government.
Based on Iris Chang’s bestselling book “The Rape of Nanking,” the pic is being penned by William Macdonald, creator of the epic HBO skein “Rome.”
“Rape of Nanking” will look at the experiences of a Chinese family during the massacre. Green says preproduction is due to start in November, shooting in March and the planned release date is December 2007, the 70th anniversary of the invasion.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong director Stanley Tong, best known for his work on action movies with Jackie Chan, is working on “The Diary,” which would also be released by the Dec. 13 anniversary of the invasion. Tong says the $40 million project, by his China Intl. Media Group, has received approval from Chinese film authorities and adds that coin would come from Germany, the U.S., Japan and China.
A documentary is also in the works. AOL vice prexy Ted Leonsis is reportedly taking more of a backseat role at his company to concentrate on “Nanking.” The docu has already sold Chinese TV rights, and although he has yet to find a distributor in the U.S., Leonsis is getting it ready for Sundance.
Two other projects are in early planning stages. Transworld Pictures in London has been working on a project for three years, and executive producer Chris Stewart says it would be filmed in China with post-production in London, using a British writer.
Another project based on the novel “Nanking” by Kevin Kent is being developed.
Local media is buzzing with rumors about who will star in Gerald Green’s version. Though everyone from Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh to Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep are being mentioned, Green insists that casting (either in China or the United States) has not started yet.
Tong told local media he has been gearing up for his project for five years and he wants Chow Yun-Fat, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau and Norika Fujiwara to star.
The massacre remains a major obstacle to healthy relations with Japan. China says 300,000 Chinese people were slaughtered by invading Japanese soldiers in Nanjing; the 1948 Tokyo war crimes tribunal found Japanese troops killed 155,000 people. Beijing believes Japan has not done enough to atone for the invasion, while the Japanese are increasingly tired of being harangued over their wartime past.
With political relations between China and Japan still tense, the Chinese government is not averse to exploiting the propaganda value of the incident. One of the top films in China this year is “Tokyo Trials,” about the post-war tribunals investigating Japanese war crimes.
John Rabe, a member of the Nazi party, and American teacher Minnie Vautrin were part of a group of Westerners who set up a safety zone draped in Red Cross flags and helped to save the lives of more than 250,000 people.
Rabe was an unlikely hero, but his story is filled with dramatic detail. Japan was Germany’s ally at the time, and Rabe often resorted to waving his swastika armband in the face of a difficult Japanese soldier to try to get his way. Even though the U.S. was not yet at war with Japan, tensions were emerging, and Rabe describes the work as highly dangerous.