|"Don't shoot! I'm not so bad. See look, I'm a Nazi." Wait, what?|
The reason this character jumped out at me was because he was speaking English with a flawless American accent, which certainly would not be something the average German would do. See, Germans speak German, a language that is not English, and when they attempt to speak English they often retain a German accent. If an American speaks German s/he retains an American accent. If an Englishman speaks German s/he retains a British accent. But most likely, a Chinese audience is not going to care if a German speaking English in a Mandarin language film has the proper German accent. It would be like an American caring if a German speaking Mandarin in an English language film has the proper German accent in Mandarin. While that perhaps took me out of the film for a few seconds, it certainly was an interesting moment in my own personal linguistic experience.
That was not the only time my perceptions were tested in the film. This German, Nazi person was John Rabe, a man considered a hero in China for his selfless efforts to protect Chinese civilians during the massacre. I had never heard of Rabe until this film and I can probably guess why. He's a heroic Nazi, and I'm an American. If there's one thing Americans hate in this world it's Nazis. They often play cartoonish villains for the American imagination, and we like to pretend anyone associated with Nazism was evil. Turns out, they weren't. I did some reading on Rabe after watching the film and came to the conclusion he might be one of the most fascinating human rights heroes of all time. If Rabe weren't a Nazi he would have lacked the political influence to help much of anyone at all.
|Characters like Rabe are continuously stripped of their power throughout the film.|
Here he is called back to Germany and forced to leave the Chinese civilians
to an oppressive and unknown fate.
City of Life and Death is not about white people from the western world. It's about the Chinese and the Japanese, and the horrors that occurred in Nanking. The white people just play interesting roles throughout the film that intrigue me...well...because I'm white and western, and this film often uses them in ways we don't typically see in western media. The Nanking Massacre itself is something we rarely mention when discussing the atrocities of World War II, despite all the (justified) emphasis we place on the Holocaust.
The treatment of Jews, Africans, and homosexuals in Europe parallels the treatment of Chinese, Filipinos, and Koreans in East Asia. You would think this other side would receive more attention. But they don't. We typically deal with our own culture in art and history, as China tends to deal with their own culture in art and history. Taking the time to observe how other cultures examine the same war we hear about from time we're tots can change our understanding and better educate us.