THE FLOWERS OF WAR (18)
Release Date: 05 April 2012
Running Time: 145 minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Zhang Yi Mou
Screenplay: Liu Heng, Yan Geling
Starring: Christian Bale, Ni Ni, Zhang Xinyi, Dawei Tong, Cao Kefan, Shigeo Kobayashi
Plot: In 1937, Nanking stands at the forefront of a war between China and Japan. As the invading Japanese Imperial Army overruns China's capital city, desperate civilians seek refuge behind the nominally protective walls of a western cathedral. Here, John Miller (Christian Bale), an American trapped amidst the chaos of battle and the ensuing occupation takes shelter, joined by a group of innocent schoolgirls and thirteen courtesans, equally determined to escape the horrors taking place outside the church walls. Struggling to survive the violence and persecution wrought by the Japanese army, it is an act of heroism which eventually leads the seemingly disparate group to fight back, risking their lives for the sake of everyone.
REVIEW AFTER THE JUMP
Review: The World War II chapter for once divided China has the one specific article on the dark days of brutality and inhuman act suffered by its citizen under the hands of the Japanese. Till this day, it remains as a taboo subject in many of the layers of the Chinese society with some still holding grudge against their invader. That incident, known by many as Rape of Nanjing was indeed a humiliation for the country but also served as a popular subject matter for countless movie adaptation. Zhang Yi Mou, a respected and undisputed Chinese director turns this incident into his latest film - “The Flowers of War.” While over the years Yi Mou has suffered some setback in his resume with some of his below-average productions, will this latest, the official China’s entry into this year’s Best Foreign Language Film made it a great comeback for the grandmaster? Yes, although the comeback could have been more glimmers in regards of some issues in the film. Effectively, “The Flowers of War” carries a lot of distinctive and bold approaches in it.
“The Flowers of War” recounts the final days of the brutal swept of the city of Nanjing by the Japanese Imperial Army. In 1937, the capital was swept with inhuman civilian killing, women been raped and mutilated, looting and public disorder. For some, a western catholic cathedral becomes the last place relatively untouched walls in the city. Here, John Miller (Christian Bale), the American alcoholic mortician trapped amidst the chaos, joined by a group of innocent convent girls and thirteen courtesans (lead by Yu Mo (Ni Ni)) from the red-light district. Despite the different in morality and social status, the group must survive the horror from the Japanese occupation while determine to get everyone out of the city.
For once, I appreciated Yi Mou’s boldness in tackling issues deemed as a taboo for the Chinese population and towards its communist central government in offering something never quite been seen before. Religious practice and the Rape of Nanjing are not the popular topic of discussion in China. Then, most of the horrors we have heard are depicted briefly in other movies but “The Flowers of War” takes the depiction of horror into a new level. No doubt that Yi Mou takes seriousness in the story by adding graphic picturesque and scenario in both shocking and disturbing images we have seen in years. The rape scenes are disturbing yet a distressing moment unsuitable for the weak hearts.
Besides that, the movie also highlights the comfort zone with the display of Catholicism among the convent girls who often resorted in a desperate prayer offering accompanying them. The strong faith in hope and will through a free religious practice is an ironic scenario that is unheard in the modern China. Yet when all hopes seem lost, there is a place for them to turn too. Then, there is a discussion of social barrier and the acceptance of the much disgusted occupations, turning into a simple question of equality. Take example of the girls crossing path in the argument of using the washroom could not be taken as lightly as it looks. For these bold moves, I have to commend Yi Mou for creating a wholly different account about the event. Watching this movie in 145 minutes of distressing but receptive of its bizarre pulsating moments with a very energetic emotion and devotion.
With the strong emotion and challenging themes presented on the table, then come some of the compromising details that prevent this from becoming an epic. True to its nature of being a film from the mainland China, the heroism in its course-colliding scenes are unavoidable. Self-sacrificing seems to take most of the story into the play and even the convent girls give no second thought about doing it too. Major Li (played by Dawei Tong) is a prime example how self-sacrificing is used in the first half of the movie, followed by the group of courtesans in the latter half. It is clearly, “The Flowers of War” is a propagandist movie that could be fuelling into modern-day of anti-Japanese sentiment, a little!
Going along the fact, this movie does mediocre in captivating me in its profound life living in the era of brutality. What Yi Mou could have done more is to alter the movie somehow to get the story closer to the heart of the audience. It lacks the derivative offers beyond its challenging themes and questions posed throughout the length of the movie. I have to agree that the addition of Christian Bale in this film is both necessary and cliché to its core. Many questions the need to put an American character in it. Here’s why – the general Chinese civilian has the tendency to survive longer if there is a foreigner somewhere. It works like a permit of delaying deaths but it is true because the Japanese army is always unsure if they need to harm the foreigners or not during the occupation. Remember “The Children of Huang-shi” where our hero Jonathan Rhys-Meyers protecting the orphanage to the remoteness of China, away from Japanese army. Well, this works the same way too.
There will always a debate of whether Christian Bale is necessary in this pricey picture. Well, I think for more ground work story flow, it is a necessary. I would not mind having him because his presence is always suave and additive. Bale presented himself in two genres of zero and hero, no matter how cliché there are, his performance is commendable and critical. For the transition from his Oscar winning role to this summer’s Batman, this will be a pleasant timing of seeing him on screen. On his opposite, the newcomer Ni Ni and Zhang Xinyi are truly amazing. Then, the whole visceral experience in the movie is greatly enhanced by the colorful composite and brilliant cinematography that has Yi Mou’s signature all over it.
In the end, “The Flower of War” is a unique addition to the whole perspective of surviving the horror within this popular subject matter; fuelled by a bold, challenging and emotional story plots that are highlighted with various course-crashing characters on the path. Unfortunately, the lack of propelling and its cliché bogs down this from becoming a pure epic.
"THE FLOWERS OF WAR" is now showing in limited cinemas nationwide. For ticketing at GSC, please go to this link. This review reflects the personal opinion of the author only.