J.L. Carrozza first met and interviewed Tun Fei Mou in 2008. Mou was visiting Boston, Massachusetts, where Carrozza resided, because his wife was giving a lecture at a university. At time Carrozza was unsure if he was going to use the interview footage for much other than a magazine article and the interview footage from that session was sadly hampered by background noise. Carrozza decided to do a much longer interview with Mou the following year which became this current film. See more »
Anybody who has seen Men Behind the Sun will probably come to the conclusion based on the film itself that the director is some kind of schlockmeister, exploiter, whatever you would call him, probably not an artist.
Director Tun Fei Mou thinks of himself as an artist, a serious filmmaker, a man who became confused and enraged when Men Behind the Sun was called exploitive and disgusting by reviewers on its release. This documentary acts as a conversation with the infamous director, as he explains his upbringing, his initiation into filmmaking and his disdain for the Japanese government for their war crimes against the Chinese during the second world war, not to mention the general Japanese ignorance toward what their soldiers did to innocent Chinese civilians, men, women, children, old people, didn't matter.
Mou's explanation of the film's graphic nature is simple; he wanted to show the world without pause or hesitation just how horrible the Chinese were treated by Japanese soldiers and politicians during this period of time, with specific methods of torture and barbarianism dramatised for us, us who don't simply want to be told what happened, but to be shown.
Mr. Mou himself appears in the documentary to be a very calm, calculating and extremely moral person, he just has a different idea of how morals should be taught. He discusses the biggest controversies he had to deal with while making the film including the use of real autopsy footage of a small child and a notorious scene in which a cat is eaten alive by hundreds of starving rats. Mou couldn't bring himself to sugar-coat the story like the tame (albeit brilliant) 2009 film City of Life and Death, which dealt with the rape of Nanking.
The documentary isn't just about Men Behind the Sun however, it also deals with other provocative films from his career including the violent Lost Souls in 1985 and his final film, the 1995 film Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre (alt title Men Behind the Sun 4, the 2nd and 3rd films in the series had nothing to do with Mou and he hates them for being pure exploitation), a film very similar to Men Behind the Sun in many ways, but as Mou reminds us when talking about this film; he didn't want to restrain the portrayal of violence, not because gore-hounds will get their rocks off on it (although I am positive they do), but to shake the viewer into realisation, that this actually happened, it happened around the same time as the Holocaust, but to this day has never seen the amount of attention or outrage as the Holocaust.
This documentary is a must-see for fans of Mou's work and is even more of a must-see for detractors of Mou's work. It also reminds us that we shouldn't judge a filmmakers intentions based on how we perceive a movie, but we should watch the film through the lens that the director would like us to see it. Most directors are indifferent about how you view their movie (unless it causes you to act violently in real life), but Mr. Mou reminds us that life isn't a pretty picture, and some filmmakers have a responsibility to remind us of that.
After watching this documentary I rewatched Men Behind the Sun with the correct context in mind. It made me realise I was focusing too much on the violent and horrific scenes, when in fact there is over an hour of other things happening (plot development, dialogue, characters) that my superficial brain didn't pick up on at first. I came to it in my late teens as a fan of excessive exploitation (and I wasn't disappointed) but now that I am older and wiser, I am able to watch it as simply a very harsh but very real history lesson, even if it's not even that well-made a film.
Mou is fascinating and lived an interesting life, great to listen to. I don't give it a higher rating for the documentary maker's slightly egocentric and unnecessary over-inclusion of himself in the film, positioning himself during the interview sat on a dresser making Mou's constant need to look upward during the whole thing rather awkward. Also the female voiceover narration sounds like it was recorded in a hotel bathroom.
Interesting conversation. Reminds us how important context is, and how important film as a medium is.
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