If you've read Iris Chang's non-fiction book "The Rape of Nanking" you have some idea of what horrors to expect. As we know, in 1937 the Japanese invaded China; after conquering Shanghai, they turned their attention to the capitol, Nanking. The result was the slaughter of over 200,000 people.
In this movie, based on the novel by Galing Yan ("Xiu Xiu, the Sent-Down Girl"), we have a fictionalized story in this chaotic setting. We are in a church compound where two groups seek shelter: the first, a dozen convent girls fleeing Japanese soldiers, and the second, a gaggle of "working girls" from a prominent brothel who throw their suitcases over the wall and demand sanctuary. A drunk but frightened Western mortician has come to prepare a priest for burial, and our story begins.....
These were the few actors I could pick out of the cast:
* Christian Bale ("The Dark Knight") is the mortician, boozy and rude; Bale seems to enjoy playing a crude American who laughs in the face of their predicament. He first puts on a priest's robe to avoid Japanese bullets, but by the time he has to bury some of their little group, he isn't quite so blithe.
* Paul Schneider ("Water for Elephants") in a cameo as another American fleeing the massacre, is incredulous that our hero is choosing to stay and try to help his charges escape the city.
* Ni Ni in her screen debut is the lovely self-appointed leader of the prostitutes. None of the women like the "big-nosed" Occidental, but a job is a job.
* Xinyi Zhang ("Love is not Blind") becomes, by default, the leader of the convent girls. She is observant, multi-lingual and expects her father to help them escape.
Instantly, the two groups of females clash: the convent girls are horrified to think that "those women" would dare sully a church, while the prostitutes see the girls as naïve, over-indulged virgins. We see moments of heroism, experience anxiety when characters make foolish choices and hold our breath when the soldiers make their demands. This is 1937 Nanking, so expect gunfire, blood, rape, and lots of blowie uppie stuff.
Note: Because soldiers are always posted outside the church compound gates, all conversations are whispered, so unless your hearing is very, very good, wait for Amazon.com to release the DVD and see if it has closed captions.