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Kukan (1941) is a documentary film produced by Li Ling Ai[1] and directed by Rey Scott about the Chinese resistance to Japanese aggression during the early part of World War II (see Second Sino-Japanese War). The film, subtitled The Battle Cry of China, was given an Honorary Academy Award at the 14th Academy Awards. Considered lost for many years, an extant print was located and is in the process of being restored at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[2] Robin Lung is producing a documentary about finding the copy, named Finding Kukan.[3]

Production Background[edit]

Scott, a St. Louis native and foreign correspondent for London's Daily Telegraph, took a handheld 16mm camera and color film to war-torn China, where he traveled from Hong Kong to the wartime capital Chongqing, and then along the Burma Road to Lanzhou. From there, he ventured to Tibet, then back to Chongqing. Throughout the film, Scott narrated his journey and detailed various ethnic groups that make up the Chinese population, including the Miao people from the mountains of Guizhou, the Muslim population of Lanzhou, the Buddhist population in Tibet, the nomads from the Gobi Desert and the Han and Manchu populations.[4]

The final 20 minutes of Kukan consists of an aerial attack by Japanese bombers against the defenseless city of Chongqing from August 19–20, 1940. The bombing took up the film's final 20 minutes and showed some of the 200 tons of bombs dropped on the city. Scott captured his footage from a vantage point on the roof of the U.S. Embassy, which was near the center of the attack.[4] Bosley Crowther, reviewing the film for The New York Times, called the sequence "one of the most awesome bits of motion picture yet seen in this day of frightful news events...somehow this wanton violence appears even more horrible than the scenes we have witnessed of London's destruction."[5]

The film was theatrically released in 1941. Kukan received the attention of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who saw the film at a private White House screening.[6]

Scott received an Honorary Academy Award for Kukan. The award was presented as a certificate rather than as a statuette, and it cited Scott “for his extraordinary achievement in producing Kukan, the film record of China's struggle, including its photography with a 16mm camera under the most difficult and dangerous conditions.” Kukan was one of two non-fiction features about World War II cited by the Academy for its 1941 Oscars, the other being Target for Tonight, produced by the British Ministry of Information.[7]

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