China film stirs passions anew before Japan PM visit

Thu Dec 22, 2011 11:57pm EST
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By Sally Huang and Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - When Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda arrives in China on Sunday, a new blockbuster movie will ensure that the foremost image of the Japanese in many Chinese people's minds will once again be of the country's brutal wartime misdeeds.

The story of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, around which Zhang Yimou's "The Flowers of War" is set, is taught from a young age in China, and countless television serials, documentaries and books ensure the topic is never out of the public eye for long.

Since going on wide release last week, the film, which stars Hollywood actor Christian Bale, has played to sell-out audiences who weep openly during its more disturbing scenes, and has taken 200 million yuan ($31.6 million) at the box office to date.

The film has won top-level political support. Its opening night was held in a government building and it is China's Oscar entry for best foreign language film, though it has received rather tepid reviews in the United States.

And director Zhang, who once made edgy films that challenged conventions, has since gone mainstream. He is now firmly viewed as a national hero after orchestrating the dazzling opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"The Flowers of War", with its dark hints of necrophilia and male rape and scenes of graphic violence, resembles in parts Chinese government-made anti-Japanese propaganda films, and it is certainly having that effect on many in the audience.

"What horrible people the Japanese are," said student Zhao Lan, after going to a packed showing at a Beijing cinema. "How can they be that crazy and mad!"

"The Japanese soldiers are terrible, and I cannot understand why they still do not want to apologize for their wrongdoings," added a man who gave his surname as Sun.   Continued...