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Because foreign commentators have not accorded the appropriate
significance to the subject of the Japanese occupation of Nanking,
there is a certain amount of righteous indignation whenever it is
raised amongst the Chinese, whose ancestors had suffered at the hands
of the Nippon invaders way back in 1937.
It is therefore quite impossible to expect objectivity from any Chinese treatment on the subject- even if it is from internationally acclaimed director and the once-infant terrible of Chinese cinema Zhang Yimou- so the best one can hope for is subtlety, with Lu Chuan's earlier box- office hit 'City of Life and Death' being an excellent example. Fortunately therefore, though Zhang Yimou's take begins on an overtly jingoistic slant, it eventually settles for a nuanced approach that exudes the very humanity at the heart of Yan Geling's story, becoming a moving and poignant account of heroism and self-sacrifice.
Opening with the first of just two battle sequences throughout the whole film, Yimou starts off emphasising the heroism of the Chinese soldiers who were outnumbered and outgunned by the invading Japanese troops. Amidst the blatant chest-thumping is a pair of convent girls trying to get back to the safety of their Catholic church, as well as an American mortician John Miller (Christian Bale) sent to attend to the last rites of the recently deceased parish priest. While the church's boy warden George (Huang Tianyuan) and the dozen schoolgirls under his care think that Miller could be their way out of the city, he turns out to be anything but- well at least in the beginning.
Content to remain nonchalant to the plight of the girls, Miller instead binges on the communion wine supply in the church's basement and ransacks the church for any money left as payment for his services. Better still, when some 13 ladies from the local brothels seek shelter at the church, he welcomes them as if elated at the prospect of his own personal harem. But transformation is at the heart of Yimou's tale, and even though you know that by the end of the story Miller will rise to the occasion to save the girls, the path to that dramatic character turn is still deeply affecting.
Kudos to Liu Heng's elegant screen writing, whose collaboration with Yimou goes as far back as the latter's 'Ju Dou', for crafting a moving character arc for Miller- beginning with an act of admirable courage when Miller puts on the priestly robes one day in a bid to stymie the Japanese from forcing themselves on the underage schoolgirls. Ever so delicately, the movie charts his change of heart from a once self- centred opportunist to a Fatherly figure looking after both the convent girls and the courtesans and eventually turning into a saviour for the former.
Just as skilfully, Yimou also charts the transformation of both groups of ladies. At the crux of it is a truly outstanding act of self- sacrifice on the part of the courtesans, as their egocentricity slowly but surely gives way to empathy and culminates in an extraordinary gesture of courage. We won't spoil this plot point for you- suffice to say that Yimou handles it with beautiful restraint, and what could easily have been maudlin melodrama is instead cast as an uplifting testament of the common bonds of humanity that unite us all despite our social backgrounds.
Yimou's adroit storytelling is complemented with the stirring performances of a top-notch cast. Christian Bale is perfectly cast, his usual understated but no less powerful acting creating a compelling character in Miller. It also enables him to blend in nicely with the rest of the massive ensemble, despite being the lone Westerner in a cast of Asians. Refusing to monopolise attention on himself or his character, he too strikes up great chemistry with his co-stars Tianyuan and newcomer Ni Ni- the latter of which steals the show with her luminous portrayal of Yu Mo, the pseudo-leader of the courtesans whose radiant beauty masks an equally sharp mind.
Evocative too is d.p. Zhao Xiaoding's cinematography, which avidly captures both the sobering horrors of war as well as the cautious moments of quiet optimism between the girls. In particular,mXiaoding also uses the convent's stained glass as a nice recurring motif to signal the omnipresence of God despite the atrocities and bleakness. And despite boasting none of the gaudy excesses of Yimou's previous big- budget extravaganzas (a la 'Curse of the Golden Flower'), production designer Yohei Tanada deserves credit for the visually intricate designs of both the cathedral as well as the war-torn streets of Nanking.
Nonetheless, what will likely resonate most at the end of the day are the film's twin messages of courage in the face of fear and humanity in the face of atrocity. Yimou's confident direction also makes for a multi-faceted movie that offers various perspectives on the war through its myriad characters, while placing Miller, Yu Mo and a thirteen-year old convent girl Shu (Zhang Xinyi) at the heart of it. Don't be deterred by its grim subject matter, or its partiality to the matter- just as its title suggests, there is beauty to be found in the unlikeliest of places, and in spite of the inevitable scenes of heartbreak and despair, it is a quietly stirring and deeply poignant drama of self-sacrificial love, especially meaningful with the impending occasion of Good Friday as a reminder of this highest form of love.
Director Yimou Zhang scores a perfect 10! For someone who is known for
the action- choreography in his movies (such as "Hero" and "House of
Flying Daggers"), Zhang keeps the viewer riveted to the seat through
the first 30 minutes or so when Japanese forces run through Chinese the
city of Nanking, unleashing mayhem and violence.
The framing and editing work in tandem to create stunning visuals that convey both the widespread destruction due to the heavy artillery, as well as the intense pain and angst of those hit. I could not help but get reminded of movies like Full Metal Jacket (1987), Saving Private Ryan and Thin Red Line (1998).
The scene where young Chinese soldiers run in an "in-line" formation towards an advancing Japanese tank, with the hope that the last man in the formation, who is a human-bomb, will get close enough to the tank and immobilize it, is outstanding. This perhaps captures the essence of the story - which is displayed through out the movie by many of its characters - the enduring nature of the human spirit. The lone surviving Chinese soldier forsaking the safety offered by a convent of nuns and going back to take on the well-armed invaders; the decision of the prostitutes to stand-in for the young and adolescent nuns who are called into the Japanese garrison for a "performance" at a celebration party and the young errand-boy at the nunnery making the choice to step in as a substitute to make up for the count for the choir are some great moments.
Zhang gets Christian Bale to show his slow but complete transformation from being a drunken mortician with hedonistic leanings to a determined man who sees the protection of the innocent victims (nuns, prostitutes and the young boy) as his calling.
The violence and gore notwithstanding, this movie is one emotional roller-coaster that is sure to make you take a pause and think about the casualties of war and the power of keeping up hope when in despair.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Flowers of War is a gritty and well-made film with a story set in a
"protected area" of Nanking during the worst atrocity to occur anywhere
in the Pacific war.
With sensitivity to a squeamish audience used to the fake horror of B movies, you'll see the slaughter of many unarmed civilians and the very brutal rape of the schoolgirls hiding in the Safety Zone but broken into anyway by Japanese soldiers. You'll see gang rapes followed by the immediate and pointless murder of the victims. You will see a supposedly "nice" Japanese officer who loves music et cetera but will later enslave all 13 schoolgirls for gang rape at a Japanese celebration.
What you will NOT see is the true depiction of the horrors inflicted on the civilians of Nanking by the Japanese. No depiction of pregnant girls being raped then cut open and having the fetus stabbed, no rapes of little children, cut open if that was necessary to effect the rape. No, it's all cleaned up, or nobody would watch it. (Will this account even survive the IMDb review?)
Witnesses to the Rape of Nanking are/were numerous and diverse. Lots of foreign nationals witnessed the crimes. There is even actual movies taken of the crimes -- at the time they were happening.
Personally, I'm not anti-Japanese. World War II was a long time ago and the leadership of Douglas NacArthur following the war changed the Japanese forever. I've visited Japan as a tourist and purchased five Japanese cars. But history is history. The Flowers of War is well worth your time; but keep in mind this is the cleaned-up version of true and prolonged horror.
One of my favorite directors does it again... He creates an emotional
roller-coaster that leaves you in shambles when it's over. Beautifully
I want to point out a very interesting thing and the reason I'm writing these comments. I just read Roger Eberts review and I must say that it offended me. Mr. Ebert used to be the the very best at what he did. The one to go to for determining if you did or didn't want to see a movie. I respected his opinions. Yet... Recently, he's lost it. Yes he's been through a lot with his current health and I wish him all the best with this. Regardless, his perception of film has obviously slipped away. Firstly, for this film he missed the fact that Christian Bales character is NOT a priest. He is a MORTICIAN. This is IMPORTANT! A mortician and a man of god are two totally different things and this is critical in understanding the path his character takes (spiritually). He also mentions over and over that a "westerner" is wasted on the story and that a Chinese priest would have been more appropriate. DID HE WATCH THE MOVIE??? It's the fact that he's a westerner that keeps the Japanese from killing him in the very beginning! If he were Chinese, he would be the ENEMY! Just like the previous priest.
I'm done preaching from my soap box. Forgive me, but when critics are hard on movies and miss the boat, it frustrates me.
This is a truly disturbing film and at the same time, it's beautiful. Give it a chance, and trust the storyteller. Your in good hands.
The lead is of course Christian Bale, starring in what would be his
first Chinese production, and a major one at that, that both sides can
claim a coup, one in having a major Hollywood star be at the centre of
one of the most tumultuous times in Chinese history, and the other
getting involved in a production that brings him back in touch with his
Empire of the Sun days in telling a tale set during World War II.
Nanking has always been at the centre of controversy for the Japanese's
refusal to admit to the atrocities committed and to downplay the number
of casualties involved, and this has led to numerous films from
documentaries to Lu Chuan's excellent City of Life and Death to have
dealt with the pain and suffering by the Chinese during the Japanese
invasion and occupation thereafter.
The central character to Zhang Yimou's Nanking tale happens to be a young schoolgirl by the name of Shujuan (Zhang Xinyi), escaping from the soldiers who have come to occupy the city, and seeking refuge at their own church and convent school. She narrates the entire tale as seen through her eyes and experience, and naturally she, and her teenage friends, are targets of the soldiers in their lust, pillage and plunder. But the priest of her church had died, and in his place is a fellow teenage caretaker (Huang Tianyuan) entrusted to protect the schoolgirls, who would have been at wits end if not for the timely arrival of mortician John Miller (Bale), caught up in the city and refusing to leave unless being paid for his trip and unwanted services.
Hiding in the same convent happen to be a group of prostitutes from a famed brothel in Nanking, who were promised safe passage and a hiding place within the confines of the church since it's owned by Westerners, and this forces a faction of sorts to emerge amongst John, who sees impersonating a priest to his advantage, the group of working girls, and the convent girls who see the former group as immoral and undeserving to be sharing their hiding place and scarce resources. If anything, this also becomes John's story in keeping things harmonious amongst the groups, and finding it within himself to hold the key to everyone's survival as much as he can, given he's a foreigner and by and large having whatever little influence to keep the Japanese at bay, which is right outside the gated courtyard.
Nanking atrocities have been told countless of times through various mediums and through film, and Zhang had probably decided not to overdo, or overly place a focus on the atrocities committed by soldiers, which becomes tempting to focus on the plenty of blood, gore and of course the much talked about sexual violence against the womenfolk in the city, whatever their age. Rather it's a very distinct three separate acts he adopts that provided different focus each, and that had worked while keeping the narrative keenly on target to dwell on the titular characters. Since the tale started with the invasion of the city, Zhang Yimou sees opportunity in presenting a mini war action film, that deals with one small squad's, and then one Captain's, relentless fight against impossible odds to keep the convent girls safe from harm.
Then it became John's story-arc in his transformation from uncaring drunkard with his skirt- chasing ways, to a man finally woken to the harsh realities of war, and the atrocities that are being committed from right under his nose should he choose to be passive, stand around and watch, or better yet, escape when being presented a chance to do so. And knowing that their prolonged stay at the church isn't a long term plan, his responsibility laid in getting an unused truck working again for their collective escape, as well as to figure out a way to save the young girls from their summons to the Japanese Imperial Army HQ where a cruel, expected fate awaits, giving rise to the notion that there's no such thing as a free lunch / freedom, but a peace enjoyed that had to be repaid many times over. Bale got to exercise his Mandarin again, which is nothing new to the actor, although here his attempts were confined and limited to keywords rather than phrases, communicating with the schoolgirls, and Yu Mo (Ni Ni) the prettiest amongst the working girls, using English since they have been schooled in a convent.
Unlike most Nanking films, Zhang Yimou's film, based upon the novel by Yan Geling, chooses to focus on what would be a great escape, and a singular primary challenge that everyone had to overcome through sheer wit with death as a possible outcome, that makes the film really moving when it broaches the theme about sacrifice. The director's works are commercial fare and accessible compared to his earlier works, and The Flowers of War prove to be no different in offering a big budgeted tale about one of humankind's darkest period in our history. A recommended must watch, although not in the same vein as City of Life and Death which had a more holistic view of the initial days of the Nanking invasion.
I admit it took me 3 or 4 times to go watch this movie but I tell you it was worth every penny. I kind of misjudge it because I thought that a drama/thriller about the Japanese invasion over China together with a priest from USA would only show how good are the Americans and how can they save everyday. But it was definitely not like this. Although Bale looks to be the main actor I definitely think that Ni Ni ( Yu Mo ) - this Chinese new actress - on top judging her splendid performance. Regarding the story I think it is flawless and this movie can easily be considered an epic one. The colors of war, the drama of the innocent children, the sacrifice of the "big sisters", the cruelty and the low honor of the Japanese soldiers are so intense that it keeps your heart beating as if you were running for an Olympic medal. There is no honor in war, what the Japanese did to the Chinese, in my opinion, it easily tops Hitler or Stalin's behavior towards Lewis people and Russians. Their goal was not only to conquer and to make the enemy capitulate but also to rape every single women soul regarding age and I think that should be one of the things that separate us from the animals; even some animals are smarter than that. On the other hand Bale is playing a perfect role of an undecided man. I mean he's definitely not the hero figure, he's not the "Bruce Willis" kind of character or even Oscar Schindler ( remember the one who saved Jews from extermination with his factory ). He has to choose between what's better for him or what's better for some strangers and his decision together with Ni Ni's perfect play as an escort lady adds the perfect dose of romanticism in times of desperation and lack of self confidence. I rate this movie 9 out of then and I tell you that even if you are not a drama fan this will let a good mark in your head.
In Flowers Of War...... when solders become a symbol for heroic. when invaders become rapists. when an mortician became a hero. when children become a responsible adults. when a father die for his child. when prostitutes become a symbol for heroic sacrifice. its just a masterpiece..... its really great movie but from my point of view it could be more greater with a different ending showing what really happened for the prostitutes and the young boy i give it 9 its really amazing sound effect motion picture casting i really fill that am watching something real. many thanks for all of Flowers of war crew. I really had a great time.
In the massacre of Nanking 1937 ,an American takes shelter in a church
along with a group of girls..
Starring-Christian Bale ,Ni Ni,Zhang Xinyi,Tong Dawei Director-Zhang Yimou
Flowers Of War is a brutal movie which captures the terrors that the Chinese faced during the massacre of Nanking.The movie is well shot and has a solid cast...
The first half of the movie, which is action packed,is lead by Tong Dawei who plays Major Li ..The second half is more of drama and it is taken up strongly by Christian Bale and Ni Ni...
The good points of the movie are its top class war scenes at the beginning of the movie, and the performances of the entire cast.. But the negative points include some over the top scenes which are highly unlikely to have taken place during a war..
The direction is good and the story engaging...And with the performances rock solid,Flowers of War is an excellent watch...
Acting-4.5/5 Direction-4/5 Story-4/5 Drama-4.5/5
I do not understand why anyone would give this movie a negative review.
I never write reviews, but after watching this, and reading some of the negative comments, I had to. It is a very touching and sometimes brutal movie. It is definitely worth a watch. The cinematography is great, the storyline does not drag, and the characters develop enough for anyone to become involved emotionally to the movie. The person who wrote the review that said "he took his Asian lady-friend to watch this, and after it was over she regarded it as garbage.", must have some personal issues, or is just so stuck up, that she can't face the reality of horrific events that could happen in any society during the tragedy of war. Once again I highly recommend at least one watch. It is not a waste of time.
In 1937, the cynical mortician John Miller (Christian Bale) arrives at
a Catholic Church in Nanjing that is under protection of the Red Cross
to bury the local priest during the Japanese attack to the Capital of
China. He finds only student girls and one young boy in the convent and
he decides to spend the night in the church and travel on the next day.
Soon a group of prostitutes from the local brothel by the river breaks
in the church seeking a sanctuary and they hide in the basement.
On the next morning, a Japanese platoon breaks in the Church and when the soldiers see the girls, they try to rape them. John wears the priest costume and poses like a priest to the invaders. He tries unsuccessfully to stop the Japanese, but the Chinese Major Li (Dawei Tong), who is the only survivor of his troop, prepares traps using bombs and destroys the whole platoon. Now John needs to decide whether he leaves Nanjing in the last ship or stays in the church protecting the naive girls.
"Jin líng shí san chai" is an unrealistic view of the Rape of Nanking in 1937. The plot has the usual exaggeration of blockbusters that spoils the film. John Miller is a cynical mercenary that refuses to escape with his compatriot in the last ship to stay with the Chinese girls in an unbelievable redemption of a character. The two prostitutes leave the shelter to bring a pair of rings and a string for her liuqin is also a ridiculous situation. The attitude of the prostitutes switching places with the student girls is also hard to believe. The best film about this shameful invasion is "Nanjing 1937". My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "Flores do Oriente" ("Eastern Flowers")
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