Men Behind The Sun (1988)

Directed by: Mou Tun-Fei
Written by: Liu Men-Fei, Teng Dung-Jing & Mou Wen-Yuan
Producer: Fu Chi
Starring: Wu Dai-Yao, Wang Run-Shen, Wang Gang, Tian Jie-Fu & Zhao Yong-Dong

From his early start making banned social dramas in Taiwan to a varied genre stint at Shaw Brothers, including romance, Wuxia pian and harsh exploitation (Lost Souls), Mou Tun-Fei's concept for Men Behind The Sun was triggered through his own research of the human experimentation done by the Japanese during World War II at the facility known as Unit 731 (located in Manchuria) during the making of his kids kung-fu comedy Young Heroes shot in the Mainland. Years of development and a long shoot among other places in Manchuria and at the real Unit 731, Men Behind The Sun became and is one of the most notorious Hong Kong-Mainland China nasties for due its unflinching look at cruel experimentation in the name of warfare. But also a well mounted and written production, Mou's views are definitely about critique but his depiction of the evil (in this case the Japanese) isn't as black and white as you might think. With a technical skill and humanity present within the walls of evil of Unit 731, Men Behind The Sun earns a very valid place as a graphic, historical and needed piece.

Largely unplotted, the movie follows a group of Japanese kids being trained as Youth Corps for the army, having their innocence and humanity drained through training and witnessing the senseless human experiments at the facility. The movie also takes place during the end of World War II and essentially is a fall of the unit but not necessarily a happy story despite.

Mou captures untouched snowy landscapes through a good looking but matter of fact frame as its vistas doesn't present anything gorgeous but rather an unforgiving landscape and that's OUTSIDE the walls of 731. As the movie takes its time setting up the children representing the remaining innocence, it takes about a third before Mou, albeit in a calm manner in terms of the aural/visual experience starts showcasing what's documented in terms of the tests performed. There are signs of surgeons not up to the task and the higher ups, led by real life character General Ishii not agreeing on the next war tactic (bacterial or chemical warfare are the options argued about) but ultimately we get a non gleeful look at the victims of experiments one rarely understands the purpose of. Human vivisection, cold endurance, prisoners injected with diseases, put in pressure chambers and gassed to death, these are only glimpses but effective, very detailed on-screen glimpses that doesn't come off as pure exploitation due to Mou having a technical, character and historian skill really.

With a low budget, Mou and crew set up a few sequences of often quoted gore, some more successfully executed off than others (the frosbite scene comes to mind as a bad one but the pressure chamber one is pulled off with success) nut very few Hong Kong or Mainland productions focused extensively on this aspect of filmmaking which makes Men Behind The Sun stand out technically too and as tough as it is to watch, Mou blends reality and staging in an eerily effective way. In the staged camp, the scene with a cat thrown into a pit of rats and eaten is clearly faked through cuts and movie blood splashed on the cat while the autopsy scene of a boy mixes shots of a real corpse (obtained with permission from the family) and close-ups of animal organs.

Exploitation can be argued and probably well but nothing of this is done in a pure just get a rise out of the audience manner (aside from some latter reel animal cruelty, towards the rats). But rather viewers will walk away pretty shell shocked experiencing staged versions of human evil, as a historical piece it has the ability to make one search out more facts about these war crime atrocities (where very few scientists and military were convicted of their crimes) and really there was no other way to make Men Behind The Sun. Emphasize, remind, educate of something that is hard to look at, know of but NEEDED knowledge, Mou Tun-Fei's films earns its rep as a nasty but is more meaningful than rumours might lead you to believe.


reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson