Reviewed by D.W. Bostaph
Directed by T.F. Mou S
History will always be remembered best by those it affected first-hand. And the darker moments of history will always have a place in cinema as fuel for exploitation. Be it as stereotypical bad guys or over-the-top retellings, moments that detail the beast in human nature will always have a happy home on the silver screen, for as deep as the depravity of those events may be, our curiosity for them delves just as far down, if not farther.
Whether you are interested in the historical or the cinematic, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre should be the fusion of both to satisfy all. The notorious movie, directed by T. F. Mou S., has been freed for public consumption by the good folks at Unearthed Films. This gorgeous DVD and the film contained on it defy description. Black Sun does not present itself as either documentary or re-creation. The film stays soundly rooted in the retelling of events in the early years of WWII before U.S. involvement – specifically, those actions that took place in the Chinese city of Nanking, where a planned massacre was ferociously and flippantly facilitated by the invading Japanese.
The film itself is beautiful. The acts within are ugly. Director Mou captures breathtaking wide shots and wrenching, unflinching moments of the macabre and truly depressing. What sets Mou’s film apart from other historical retellings is the flawless weaving of story and documentary. Interspacing stock footage and actual reels of Nanking killings and events, Mou took the time to make sure that several of the shots in the film lined up perfectly with the actual photographs of the war crimes. Mou has created a 95-minute world where the viewer feels immersed within. Seeing the actual events unfold coats one’s soul with a chilly feeling, blurring the lines between recreation and documentation.
Make no mistake about it: This is a vile film. Black Sun has gained its place in exploitation’s hall of horror for good reason. There is an adequate amount of bloody acts in both the re-enactments and actual film from the massacre to effortlessly make this one of the nastiest movies about war ever made. Certain effects may feel dated, but the intent the actions carry with them contains a resonance that surpasses any visual shortcomings. The heavy-handedness of the acts, paired with the constant historical references, makes the violence all the more unsettling, for the context in which Mou plays the film leaves the observer with the feeling that even more audacious acts may have actually occurred.
Mou is infamous for Men Behind the Sun, another film about WWII atrocities. Those are set within the confines of a lab experimenting on human subjects; in Black Sun the canvas is vast. There is an epic at work, and Mou uses all of the screen to create this world and the nightmare visions it embraces. This is the best looking exploitation film I have ever seen.
The presentation by Unearthed is fantastic. Pulled from the original negative and in a proper widescreen (1:177:1) format, the film appears to be in fantastic condition. A few areas of age and wear appear, but within the framework of Mou’s film, they give it a feeling of truth, making the experience even more personal. There are a handful of informative extras that tell the history, geography, and military strategy behind the assault on Nanking. Also included are two interviews with Mou and a 1944 film called Why We Fight, a great United States propaganda piece, very detailed in its coverage and explanation of what events lead up to US involvement in WWII, that explains why the Japanese were so intent on their conquest of China.
Interestingly enough, the film showcases some of the best arguments for and against the crimes it depicts. There is a duplicitous nature to this film. While is does seem to revel in showcasing the cruelty of the events, it also dives down into the soul of what one human owes to another with discussions showcasing the bonds of respect we should show each other as human beings and why some people make the conscious choice to ignore that pact.
Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre will never be remembered in the same context as such films as Schindler’s List, but the truth beneath them is analogous. War is repulsive, and in warfare things are done that not a soul is proud of. People are killed, cities are destroyed, and lives are either changed forever or ended. T. F. Mou obviously felt a deep connection to the atrocities that played out in Nanking, and it shows in the emotion and message that he places in this film, a message that may be more relevant now than ever.
Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre (1995)
Directed by T. F. Mou S.
Why We Fight: The Battle Of China Short
History of the Nanking Massacre Featurette
T. F. Mou Interviews
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