“A small rat can beat a cat”: ‘Men Behind the Sun’ Review
Controversy in fictional stories can be used greatly and has an incredible effect on storytelling but when it’s based on the truth that it gives that story even more of a disturbing and chilling nature to it. Such is the case with Men Behind the Sun, the controversial true life tale that director T.F. Mou tackled during the decade of the 1980s – a graphic and cruel historical retelling of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.
Mou’s film shot with a documentary-style cinema verite aesthetic to it pulls absolutely no punches beginning in its opening scenes, one of them being a group of kids force feeding a kid a big quantity of rice into his mouth, and makes the viewer aware that this is the type of film that they’re going to experience for the next 90 minutes.
The film tells the story of the Japanese Army and their secret and hugely controversial experiments in Unit 731, which was the location of their biological experiments that they inflicted amongst Chinese and Soviet prisoners. Men Behind the Sun has an incredibly powerful and disturbing premise and one that you can do something terrifying and life altering with, but the problem with Mou’s film is that its shot and conceived as pure exploitation; for lack of a better word shock for the sake of being a shock.
This month, which has been entirely composed of controversial films here at Kulture Shocked, has seen films that aspire to do something with their controversial motif. While a film like Irreversible also borders a lot of exploitation, you can feel that Gaspar Noe tries to inject the movie with a deeper truth: love, time and the fragility of both and how one must take advantage of beautiful moments in one’s life because they can be gone in an instant. With Men Behind the Sun, it just feels like exploitation for the sake of that; there’s a grittiness to the way that Mou shot the film, but that grittiness doesn’t do any wonders for its story or aspirations.
This film, while it's incredibly graphic and violent, could’ve been more of a dramatic horror film but instead, it’s just a very exploitative and grimy horror film that uses its subject matter to showcase a lot of really disturbing scenes. It was so graphic in fact that the film was the first film to be given the equivalent of an NC-17 rating in Hong Kong.
Men Behind the Sun is a missed opportunity. A story that is not only disturbing because it’s based on true events but one that you can focus on by telling a story that is elegantly told and has real emotion and impact; isn’t just shock for shock’s sake. As an exploitation film, it fits that bill, but one wonders what the finished product might’ve been like if it had been treated differently.