19 December 2007

Men Behind The Sun

Men Behind the Sun
(Hei tai yang 731)
a.k.a. - Man Behind the Sun, Squadron 731, Camp 731
China - 1988
Director – Tun Fei Mou
World Video & Supply Inc., (year?), DVD

I love war movies because I’ve studied a lot of military history, and from what I’ve seen (mostly in the Kung Fu arena), Chinese war movies focus mostly on the Japanese occupation before and during WWII, with justifiable bitterness. Men Behind the Sun is no exception, only it takes the concept to a startling new level.

The Japanese are beginning to lose the war, and in order to try and ensure victory they decide to speed up the development of their biological weapons program The Imperial Army reinstates Gen. Ishikawa to unit 731 after he was previously discharged from that very unit for corruption. At the same time, a company of the Youth Corps is sent to train at 731 in biological warfare tactics. After disposing of some traitorous colleagues the general turns up the heat on the research and development of techniques to deploy the Bubonic Plague and other diseases offensively. I was bored with the Faces of Death movies back in the day, and the tagline on my copy of Men Behind the Sun purports to be “In the tradition” of those movies and in a way I can see why some people would say that, but I think there is a fundamental difference.

The Faces series, or at least the ones I’ve seen, were never trying to tell a story. They were just a series of vignettes each meant to be taken as completely real. Men Behind the Sun on the other hand has a linear plot with recurring characters yet maintains a plethora of gruesome related interjections. While the characters are intended to be taken seriously, the violence is tangibly exaggerated to press home a point. For that reason, the egregious gore effects, some real, and some clearly fake are even more stomach turning. I was seriously taken aback. I’ve seen creative use of medical footage and animal cruelty footage, but this was definitely something new. Ishikawa’s sadistic experiments seem to have little bearing on his stated objective, at least in the context of this film, but that doesn’t stop him from pursuing both with equal vigor and a gleam in his eye. Finally, in the end, as the war draws to a close the 731 has to abandon its base and withdraw to Japan where the victimized Chinese suffer the greatest cruelty of all, the amnesty of the members of unit 731. Men Behind the Sun provides the egregious use of stomach turning violence you expect from a film in the “Mondo” tradition, but also has guts enough to provide someone to blame it all on. That’s a whole new mouthful of flavor.

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