Writes Dustin Chang in twitchfilm.com:
Tackling a heavy subject matter, such as the rape of Nanking on film, is not an easy task. In City of Life and Death, director Lu Chuan (Mountain Patrol: Kekexili) does a skillful balancing act in this narrative treatment of the infamous event in history. It's not a nationalistic, didactic film by any means, but rather an uncompromising account of life and death in wartime. Shot in stark black and white and with many hand-held scenes, the film recreates what it must've been like in Nanking, the former capital of China under siege by Japanese aggressors, in 1937-38.
The film starts with a young, learned Japanese Lt. Kadokawa (Hideo Nakaizumi) exhausted and dazed from the constant march, far away from home, looking at the walled city in the distance. Then the shelling begins and brutal fire fight ensues between the invading Japanese soldiers and the ragtag of pre-communist Chinese Kuomintang fighters in the streets of rubble and dead bodies. The scenes are just as intense as the ones in Saving Private Ryan. Outnumbered and outgunned, Nanking is overtaken by the Japanese in 3 days in somewhat messy fashion. After massacring all the Chinese men who they deemed as soldiers by shooting, bayoneting, burying alive and decapitating, the Japanese army then proceeds to rape and pillage the city. John Rabe, a German businessman and a member of the Nazi party and his Chinese subordinates create an international zone where they house many Chinese civilians. And they become subjects to an unbelievable pressure by the occupying Japanese. They fend off the Japanese army in the beginning, but succumb to the victors' inhumane cruelty.
The complete review here.
More at Wikipedia.