Universal acclaim - based on 13 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 12 out of 13
  2. Negative: 0 out of 13
  1. Reviewed by: Kenneth Turan
    Nov 16, 2011
    Harrowing and unflinching, a savage nightmare so consuming and claustrophobic you will want to leave but fear to go, City of Life and Death is a cinematic experience unlike any you've had before. It's a film strong enough to change your life, if you can bear to watch it at all.
  2. Reviewed by: David Lewis
    Sep 22, 2011
    City of Life and Death, a stunning re-creation of the Japanese army's annihilation of Nanking in 1937, will make you flinch, even as you admire its brilliant black-and-white cinematography, breathtaking art design and unerring direction.
  3. Reviewed by: Manohla Dargis
    May 12, 2011
    City of Life and Death isn't cathartic: it offers no uplifting moments, just the immodest balm of art. The horrors it represents can be almost too difficult to watch, yet you keep watching because Mr. Lu makes the case that you must.
  4. Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Jun 16, 2011
    This is hardly a film to recommend as entertainment. As an act of remembrance, though, it is singular and, in its way, soaring.
  5. Reviewed by: Joe Williams
    Jul 8, 2011
    Both arduous and artful, City of Life and Death is the best imaginable movie about the genocidal siege that's now called the Rape of Nanking. Anything more explicit would be unwatchable; anything more contemplative would be a betrayal of the sustained suffering.
  6. Reviewed by: Steven Rea
    Jun 5, 2011
    Chuan's unsettlingly beautiful black-and-white, wide-screen account of those nightmare six weeks, re-creates that horror in ways that are at once allusive and lucid, mixing cinematic impressionism with documentary-like detail.
  7. Reviewed by: Wesley Morris
    Jun 5, 2011
    Here the Japanese senses of honor and of shame are particularly entangled. Later in the film, Lu mounts an Imperial Army parade through the Nanking ruins. It's something to see.
  8. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    Jun 18, 2011
    Despite its blunt characterizations and simplifications, City of Life and Death, through the inexorable pileup of gruesome detail, achieves an epic vision of horror.
  9. Reviewed by: Scott Tobias
    May 12, 2011
    The film never feels entirely staid: Lu wriggles out of convention where he can, especially in the first half, and engages with history as an artist, not a hagiographer.
  10. Reviewed by: Phil de Semlyen
    May 9, 2011
    Passionate and expertly crafted, this black-and-white opus is well worth seeking out.
  11. Reviewed by: Michael O'Sullivan
    Jun 16, 2011
    It's a muscular, physical movie, pieced together from arresting imagery and revelatory gestures, large and small.
  12. Reviewed by: J. Hoberman
    May 10, 2011
    City of Life and Death is far more convincing as a spectacle of mass atrocity than a drama of individual conscience.
  13. Reviewed by: Joshua Rothkopf
    May 10, 2011
    The movie skips along episodically; it's not quite as sharp as a war narrative needs to be, even if its nightmarish psychology feels spot-on.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 17 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 5 out of 5
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 5
  3. Negative: 0 out of 5
  1. Nov 18, 2012
    The film is about the chinise village of Natking during world war 2 and the shocking truth of one of the jappanse worse war crimes. The film dipicts the truth so well of how the jappanese and chinise would of acted in this dreadful carnage and atrosity, But the fine line of filming this movie in black and white was a perfect desition that kinda reminded me of Schindlers List, aswell as many other war film classics. A truly must see film with splended acting, directing and cinemtography it will leave you breathless to the final scene. Full Review »
  2. Nov 5, 2011
    A profound, heart-rending, and utterly moving experience. Engaging as it is tragic, this episode of history is retold in a manner that is both horrific and beautiful. I shall never forget it. Full Review »
  3. Aug 19, 2011
    As of Agust, this is the best film I have seen this year. Grim but realistic, I was informed and horrified. Several questions kept running through my mind. Why did China take so long to clear this film for release? Did every Japanese have to be a devil? Why have the Japanese resisted admitting the truth about their actions during the 1930's and 40's? Why are they so stubborn? What happened to John Rabe when he returned to Nazi Germany and how did this affect his views. I also like the way the "comfort women's conditions were shown. No sugarcoating it as we men need to realize what is going on. This film will be on my 2011 Top Ten list. Full Review »