Christ of Nanjing, The
Hong Kong 1995
Directed by Tony Au.

A Japanese writer cures his writer's block by going to China and sleeping with a young virgin. At first a pretty good deal, but tragedy results.

I'm trying to think of the last time I saw a movie which contained a scene in which Jesus Christ appears and rapes someone. Come to think of it, I've never seen it before. No, this is the first time. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Okagawa Ryuichiro (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) is a Japanese writer. Or at least he tries to be, but writers block and constant migranes have pretty much put an end to his writing career. He decides to take a vacation away from his wife to visit Nanking, where he studied. There, he meets up with an old chum and they immediately wind up in a brothel.

Coinciding with their visit, young Jin-Hua (Tomita Yasuko), an extremely simple and naive girl from the country, arrives at the brothel to visit her cousin, and to borrow money for her family, who live in near-starvation poverty. What she is the only one who doesn't realize is that her parents sent her to work as a prostitute, not to lend money which no one has to give. Luckily for her, Okagawa falls for her immediately, and her cousin convinces her to marry him. In actuality, the brothel sells her to him for a very high, 'virgin' price. He takes her on their 'wedding' day, and so begins their passionate love affair. His pen, once dry, now writes dozens of inspired pages per day.

The affair comes to a premature end, however, when he gets news that his wife has given birth to his baby. She nearly loses her mind over it, he leaves for Japan. But back in Japan, he cannot stop thinking about her. His wife and child become the odd ones out.

Without Okagawa, Jin-Hua soon ends up back at the brothel, where she is put to work and promptly contracts syphylis. She becomes feverish, and hallucinates that Okagawa is going to return and save her. It just keeps on getting more tragic from there.

Christ in Nanjing is a beautifully filmed work, a haunting tale of doomed love. The acting was strong, though I found it odd that Chinese actor Tony Leung played a Japanese character, while Japanese actress Tomita Yasuko played a Chinese character. Though later I realized that the role of Jin-Hua required a fair bit of nudity, more in fact than most Chinese actors are willing to do. In these cases, it is often a Japanese actress who takes the role instead.

Christianity and Christian symbolism are ever present in this tale. For starters, a lot of foot washing is going on. But Okagawa is not religious himself, though Jin-Hua is, devoutly so. I get the feeling that Okagawa never understood her beliefs, and was even somewhat frustrated that she insisted on loving Jesus more than himself. He felt a kind of competition with this other man. That competition becomes all to real later on, when Jesus comes calling at the brothel, with two american dollars, to get some action. Later, Okagawa goes down to the riverbank to beat the crap out of Jesus.

Throughout it all, Jin-Hua retains her devotion to Christ. In hard times she recalls singing as a child, "Jesus loves me this I've known, never left this lamb alone." Which underscores her tragedy, as Okagawa has indeed left her alone. She is representative of Christian converts of the Republican era, in whom it was not necessary to understand theology, nor even the differences in the different churches. By this time, Protestantism had entered China, and with it, a renewed sense of personal salvation. Rather than focusing on the proper rites and scriptures, Missionaries were more interested in winning an emotional, not knowledgeable, conversion. Souls were at stake, and the faster they could be saved the better.

I was expecting to be bored by this film, but I wasn't. The characters were engaging, the story tight and coherent. It definitely has a "We're hoping to enter this into Foreign film festivals" look to it, but in spite the artsiness of the whole endeavor, nevertheless manages to shock, engage, and entertain throughout. Though I wouldn't recommend it if you're already feeling depressed.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 20, 2004.

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