Good things come in double doses - and so do films.
The heartrending story of the massacre in Nanjing shortly after it fell to Japanese occupation in late 1937, commonly known as "the rape of Nanking", is the subject of two movies, which almost by acquiescence, are premiering one week apart.
Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death (Nanjing Nanjing) gives a panoramic view of the atrocities and the rescue, from three different perspectives. The first tells the story of the soldiers, whose failed defense of the city led to the horror of rampant execution-style killings at the hands of the Japanese. The second gives the most poignant account of the civilian survivors and those who risked their lives to save them. The third is about the redemption of one Japanese soldier, who manages to retain a semblance of human decency despite all the cruelties around him.
The Sino-German co-production John Rabe is a biopic focusing on the most important of the rescuers. John Rabe was the director of electronics company Siemens, Nanjing, a Nazi and supporter of Hitler. As the incidents unfold, he is thrust into the storm of history. Together with a small group of expatriates, he sets up a refugee zone, which ended up protecting as many as 200,000 people. Simply put, Rabe was the Oskar Schindler of the incident.
The diaries Rabe left behind are a major testament to unspeakable brutalities in the winter of 1937. Sadly, the movie seems to be obsessed with Hitler - there are so many mentions of the Fuhrer's name you could be forgiven for thinking the incident happened in Berlin. Rabe's association with the Nazis is over-emphasized, while his heroism is understated. During the second half of the movie, much of the action is pushed to the background. Some melodramatic details were invented to fill the void but real events were strangely bypassed. Moreover, the lengthy end credits make no mention of the donation drive organized by Nanjing citizens in the aftermath of the war to help out a newly impoverished Rabe, their savior, while the last scene depicting his departure looks like a poorly staged propaganda show, every bystander with over-the-top expressions.