A new movie backed by the Chinese government about Japanese atrocities during the World War II-era "Nanking Massacre" earned a strong $10 million in its opening week, its director said Monday.
"City of Life and Death" deals with the sensitive topic of the 1937 rampage in the eastern city now known as Nanjing. Historians generally agree that the Japanese army slaughtered at least 150,000 civilians and raped tens of thousands of women there.
The killings remain a sore point for many Chinese who believe that Japan hasn't shown sufficient remorse for the atrocities, while many Japanese conservatives are disgruntled over what they say are exaggerated stories of its brutality during World War II.
The movie's release comes amid Chinese unhappiness over Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso's decision to donate a 50,000 yen ($520) evergreen tree to a war shrine in Tokyo seen as a symbol of the country's militarist past.
Director Lu Chuan told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday that the $11 million "City of Life and Death" earned 70 million Chinese yuan ($10 million) from Wednesday to Sunday. Given the film's dark subject matter and lack of big stars, the result stacks up well against recent benchmarks. By contrast, John Woo's star-studded $80 million historical epic "Red Cliff" made 108 million Chinese yuan ($16 million) in four days after opening in July.
Lu said he didn't know how many screens the film was released on, but he said earlier the plan was 1,400 screens. China has about 4,000 screens.
"City of Life and Death," which examines the Japanese atrocities through the eyes of a Chinese soldier, a Japanese soldier and regular Chinese citizens, was one of several similar movies planned to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the 1937 killings.
None were actually released in 2007, the anniversary year, and "City of Life and Death" is the first one to be released at all.
Highlighting the sensitivity of the project, Lu said earlier that the movie, which counts state-run China Film Group among its financial backers, took five months to get government approval when it was proposed and another five months to clear Chinese censors when it was finished.
But the film now appears to have the firm support of the Chinese government. The Chinese Communist Party's Central Propaganda Department and State Administration of Radio, Film and Television named it one of 10 recommended films to commemorate the 60th anniversary of communist rule. The official Xinhua News Agency ran a 1,600-word interview with Lu on its English-language service last Tuesday.