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Men Behind The Sun (1988)
TITLE: Men Behind The Sun
YEAR: 1988
COUNTRY: Hong Kong
DURATION: 105 mins
Hei Tai Yang 731
STARRING: Hsu Gou, Tie Long Jin, Zhaohua Mei, Zhe Quan, Gang Wang, Runsheng Wang, Dai Yao Wu, Andrew Yu
Men Behind The Sun (1988)
Good day sunshine...
REVIEWED BY: The Chelsea Ripper
A STRONG CONSTITUTION is required for a viewing of Men Behind The Sun. The story of a historically accurate Japanese military unit located in occupied China during the Second World War, it contains more graphic scenes of human dismemberment and cruelty than any other film we can think of. The backbone of the story follows the training of a group of young recruits, sent to Unit 731 to learn of its purpose, and to support its murderous objectives. Initially the film plays like an Asian 'buddy' movie, with playful scenes between the 'innocent' recruits and moments of unexpected sentimentality. Quickly, though, Men Behind The Sun shatters that innocence and replaces it with some of the most realistic and gruesome scenes of horror ever committed to the screen.
The madness begins when the first batch of prisoners (or 'Maruta' as the recruits are ordered to call them), arrive at the camp in blizzard conditions. A Japanese guard separates a woman from her baby by grabbing it and throwing it into the snow. As the woman is dragged away kicking and screaming the guard shows just how evil he is by covering the baby with snow with his boots. It gets much worse for the prisoners when they reach the camp and, one by one, they are taken away to be dissected by doctors who fully believe that what they are doing is fine and dandy, and in the name of science. The luckiest captives avoid the chloroform and surgical knife and get starring roles in a number of bizarre experiments, many of which the young recruits are forced to watch as part of their training. A woman has her arms frozen, then heated in a vat of hot water, then - in front of his pupils - the mad doctor pulls off the skin revealing her stripped bones. Another poor captive is thrown into a pressure chamber and squished until his bowels explode over the floor. The experiments are grim, horribly realistic, and depressingly relentless. But they're just special effects at the end of the day, and their graphic nature is entirely justified in the context of revealing the true history of Unit 731.
At one point in the story, though, Men Behind The Sun debatably crosses the line of acceptability. A (very) young local kid befriends the recruits and is lured into the camp by one of the young soldiers. The local is friendly, full of smiles, but unfortunately very naive. He is taken into a white room by a smiling doctor, chloroformed, then dissected in minutes by a group of military doctors. If that wasn't shocking enough, the film-makers chose to inter-cut a few shots from a real autopsy into the local boy's fictitious dissection, making this scene highly uncomfortable viewing. You can see where the special effects end and real stuff begins, and thankfully it doesn't last long, but the impact is profound, highly disturbing and it's inclusion questionable.
In spite of the relentless death, mutilation and suffering, Men Behind The Sun is actually a very watchable, extremely well-made film. The cinematography is superb with lots of moody, effective lighting, great framing and excellent use of long lenses. The production design is very good - some scenes have thousands of soldiers in uniform. The locations and sets are above what you might expect from a film such as this. The actors all give good performances - especially the 'evil' Japanese top brass. And the special effects vary from very good to gruesomely outstanding. The sum of the parts, in this case, definitely do equal more than the whole. Men Behind The Sun may be 'propaganda' in the eyes of some; completely true in the eyes of others; but to us it is controversial film-making par excellence. The kind of film that will never be made again - a true sick, chunk-blowing classic.
BUY: Uncut DVD from
BUY: Uncut DVD from
BUY: Uncut DVD from Empire DVD
LINK: IMDb listing
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Brain Eater
I really like the way this film is made - the director knows how to make a small film look big. That said, watching it makes me feel a bit uneasy. The autopsy scene is completely over the top. It wouldn't look so convincing with FX, but if it was fake I wouldn't feel so bad watching it!
The film does have its faults - many of the captives look more European than Chinese or Russian; and the dubbed dialogue is pretty bad - but overall it's a very entertaining and unique example of Hong Kong film-making. Not sure what was going on with the rat/cat scenes though. Some people think they really threw a cat in there? I think that's bullshit. The autopsy is real, but the rest is simply clever film-making and special effects.
A bona fide sick classic! Dark, depressing and gloomily realistic, Men Behind The Sun is one to test the old constitution. Don't eat a big meal before watching it. Don't watch it if you're an animal lover. And don't even contemplate it if you upset easily. This one is for strong stomachs only!
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