Film Confronts Horrors of 'Comfort Women'

January 18, 2018  Editor: Yang Peng
The new film Great Cold combines a documentary-style narrative with a wartime drama set in a village in Shanxi province. It centers on two young sisters, who are sexually enslaved by invading Japanese forces during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45). [Photo provided to China Daily]


Before penning the movie Great Cold, scriptwriter Lyu Pinpin collected all the books and documents she could find about the plight of "comfort women" — the female victims from China, South Korea and the Philippines who were forced into sexual slavery by invading Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.

While researching the brutality of Japanese soldiers against Chinese women during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), Lyu says she was so sickened and distressed by what she read that she found it difficult to fall asleep night after night. And as the mother of a 6-year-old boy, the writer was consumed with anger when she read about the rape of Chinese women and the killing of their infants by Japanese troops.

"It is one of the darkest chapters in history, and should never be forgotten. Those surviving elderly women deserve a feature film that shows more people about the horrors they suffered and their courage in speaking out," the 41-year-old writer tells China Daily during a preview of the movie at Peking University on Jan 10.

And her hopes were realized with the general release of Great Cold across China on Jan 12. The film examines the plight of the former comfort women, the misery inflicted on the victims and Japan's refusal to face up to its wartime past. It has won praise from viewers and scholars alike.


A scene from Great Cold [China Daily]


Casting veteran actress Lu Yuan and emerging talent Xu Wei, the movie combines a documentary-style narrative with a wartime drama set in a village in eastern Shanxi province. It centers on two young sisters who are sexually enslaved by invading Japanese forces.

As well as exposing the atrocities committed by Japanese troops, the movie also examines the human complexities of life in war-torn China.

One scene features one of the sisters who, after becoming pregnant following her rape at the hands of Japanese soldiers, decides to commit suicide rather than face discrimination from her fellow villagers.

"I wrote this last line for her:' Only after I jump off the cliff, your heads (her family) can lift up.' She wants to use her death to wash off the so-called shame," explains the scriptwriter as she describes how she tried to infuse more depth into the film while avoiding cliches.

In the creative set piece, the unfolding narrative is seen from the perspective of Zhang Shuangbing, a former primary schoolteacher who has been researching the history of comfort women in Shanxi province since the 1980s.

Over the past 36 years, Zhang has interviewed 127 female survivors, and has accompanied 16 of them on several occasions over recent years to file lawsuits against the Japanese government, demanding an apology and compensation for wartime atrocities.

When the movie began test screenings earlier this month, only one of the 127 women he talked to remained alive. Zhang says he couldn't hold back tears as he watched the 126 names of the dead women framed in black roll through the closing credits of the film.

"I'm not a film critic and I don't know how to artistically review a movie. But I know what I've heard from those women needs to be heard by more people," says Zhang, who also attended the Peking University screening.

"Some critics suggest films that re-create the traumas and nightmares of the past also force survivors to relive the horror all over again," says Zhang.

"But I've never agreed with this view. I've sat and talked to these women who have buried the pain of their secrets for many years, and tolerated misunderstanding and bias from those they have cared for over the decades. Most of them really wanted to speak out-it helped give them peace during their final years," he adds.


A scene from Great Cold [China Daily]


Director Zhang Yueping, who has been familiar with Zhang Shuangbing's work for more than 10 years, says the crew approached the movie with a sense of duty and responsibility, rather than consider it a commercial production.

With China's cinema screens long dominated by blockbuster action movies and comedies, many scholars at the Peking University event voiced concern that such a serious work might struggle to earn enough screenings to reach its intended wider audience.

During the event, Jia Leilei, former vice-president of the Chinese National Academy of Arts, made an appeal to cinema managers to arrange more screenings for Great Cold.

Rao Shuguang, secretary-general of the China Film Association, echoes the sentiment that the low-budget movie deserves much wider attention. "It authentically re-creates history and respects the past. I hope more youngsters will watch the movie," he adds.


(Source: China Daily)

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