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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

HEI TAI YANG 731, tun fei mou, 1988


japanese troops round up chinese and russian prisoners of war and take them to a place called squadron 731, where they are grotesquely tortured and experimented on to test new biological weapons.


insanely graphic, unrated, brutal torture scenes, and of course the fact that this historical movie discusses a part of japanese history which no one wants to remember.


controversy rating: 8.5/10
overall rating: 7/10

better known by its english title, men behind the sun, this film from hong kong is one of the more devasating films on our list. after reading about it on the internet and seeing some stills, i knew this was going to be the one that i might have the hardest time stomaching. which is also why we put off watching it for a long time.

then, they ended up screening it at an art gallery in kensington market called double double land, so we decided we should go (where we had seen antichrist a few weeks earlier; our review of that will be posted here at a later date). a few things to note, however: the version that we saw was dubbed in english (bummer) and we were two of about eight people who showed up, and by the end of the film, it was just us, another guy, and the guy who ran the gallery.

i can understand why this film would get some walk-outs; it is definitely brutal in terms of the images it chooses to show. however, i think jason and i both agreed that it needed to be that graphic to make its point. it's kind of a chinese salo, if you will: a disgusting, ruthless torture film that is, at its heart, a massive political outcry.

one storyline that stuck out to me, in particular, within the film was about one of the young soldiers of the 731 squadron and a young boy who seems to live just outside of the compound. they develop an almost playful relationship throughout the film, but the soldier ends up giving up the boy (unknowingly) and starts to doubt why he is there in the first place. also, a japanese flag covered in blood?

i might like to see this film again someday in the distant future in its original language(s), considering the english-dubbed experience is always a tad ridiculous, and made the movie seem more sentimental than i think it might've actually been. but, for now, i think i'm sated re: biological warfare torture flicks.


controversy rating: 8/10
overall rating: 6/10

first off, we had to see this one dubbed. i’m not positive, but i’m pretty sure that some of the voice actors were british. as you can imagine, hearing a swanky british voice come out of a chinese actor’s mouth while they’re trying to be exceptionally serious and while they’re immersed in this despicable situation was off-putting. we’ll set this fact aside for the rest of the review.

there was a period during the beginning when i actually thought this would be a good film. as i’ve learned more and more from CMC, gore doesn’t really bother me, and it seemed appropriate, even necessary, (and crucially, not exploitative) to show it, given how awful the events actually were. this seemed especially important to me since the subject matter is something that i imagine most westerners are not familiar with from their WWII-era history class. but it felt like the film derailed partway through and by the second half or so i was getting antsy to just be done with it.

the explicit scenes were some of the most difficult we’ve watched yet. a woman is exposed to extreme cold for hours and then has her hands hit with wooden sticks (cf. the still above), a man is put in an extreme pressure chamber until he’s crushed and his intestines shoot out from him, an adolescent boy has an autopsy performed on him while he’s still alive (some of the footage is of a real autopsy on a boy who’d died in the area they were filming and who’s parents consented to letting them use his body). strangely, i found the few scenes where we see the older japanese man whose job it is to cut up and burn the bodies prancing around, continually drunk and singing, to be very effective and almost moving.

as jordaan mentioned in his review, this was the one from our CMC list that he was least looking forward to and it was the one which i thought i was most likely to be disturbed by. but, probably because of the amount we’d hyped ourselves up for how bad it would be, it ended up letting me down a little bit in that respect.

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