The new war drama Nanking! Nanking! (南京! 南京!, also known as City of Life and Death) which focuses on the Rape of Nanking in 1937, reported strong box office figures for its opening week. According to the Chinese press it grossed 65 million yuan (just under US$10 million) in its first week, while the director, Lu Chuan, said it took 70 million yuan in its first five days.
Although these figures aren't record-breakers - it would be only the seventh highest weekly figures this year - it's still an excellent result for this time of year. Those other films to break the $10 million mark all did so in the peak holiday period of January and early February. By way of comparison, the average takings for the number 1 weekly earners in March, according to Box Office Mojo figures, were $6.8 million.
Besides the impressive box office showing, Nanking! Nanking! is turning out to be one of the most talked about films in China in recent years. The Wall Street Journal blog China Journal reports that one popular website alone, Douban.com, has over 1,500 audience reviews of the film. Some people worry that the film will create an ugly backlash against the Japanese, while others have criticised it for humanising the Japanese (part of the film is told from a Japanese soldier's perspective). Seventy years on, and this dark episode in Chinese history can still unleash powerful reactions.
Next week there's a few days' national holiday for May Day, so Nanking! Nanking! is likely to record another strong box-office performance. However this time it will compete head-to-head with another Rape of Nanking based film, John Rabe. Although John Rabe is a predominantly German production, and the only well-known Chinese in the international cast is Zhang Jingchu, it has already received plenty of publicity in China because of its subject matter.