Men Behind the Sun
AKA: Man Behind the Sun
Year of release: 1987
Director: Mau Dui-Fai
Stars: Hsu Gou, Gang Wang, Andrew Yu, Wu Dai Yao, Wang Run Shen, Quan Zhe, Mei Zhao Hua, Jin Tie Long
Rated III for violence and language
Version reviewed: World Video DVD
For years, Men Behind the Sun has developed quite a reputation among Hong Kong movie fans. Director Mau Dui-Fai's (aka T.F. Mous) use of actual autopsy footage and the maiming of a real cat have caused many to label the film as gross exploitation. However, if one steps past the gore (and the somewhat questionable ethics used in obtaining the footage) the film registers -- at least to this viewer -- as one of the more powerful war movies ever created.
Based on true events, the film takes place near the end of World War II in a Japanese prison camp simply known as 731. The camp is run by General Ishii, who sees chemical weapons as Japan's key to winning the war, and will stop at nothing to create the perfect weapon. Ishii uses the Chinese prisioners (called "maruta" or material) in a series of sickening experiments, while a group of teenage soldiers known as the Youth Corps try to come to terms with the place that they now call home.
The plot isn't very dense, but Mau manages to create a set of well-rounded characters. Even General Ishii (even though he is undeniably more than a bit insane) doesn't come off as a total devil, and many of the characters -- especially the kids in the Youth Corps -- come off as fairly sympathetic. Mau notes in an interview included on the DVD that Men Behind the Sun is not an exploitation film, and I would agree. The expliotation genre takes glee in presenting over-the-top sex and violence, and this movie is an undeniably grim look at one of one of the darker points in the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen.
I will grant that Men Behind the Sun does seem to go a bit overboard in parts, especially one scene where a man in put into a decompression chamber until his intestines shoot out his anus. But overall, it really gets its' point across. Even though I have seen many films with more blood and guts, rarely have I been so shocked. Men Behind the Sun is one of those rare pictures that will keep you thinking about it long after it ends. If you have a strong stomach, I highly recommend this film. Even if you don't, it's still worth a viewing, since it brings to attention one area of history most Westerners don't know much about.
Note: there have been a couple of "sequels" released which have nothing to do with this movie.
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