In 1937 China, during the second Sino-Japanese war, a mortician, John (Christian Bale) arrives at a Catholic church in Nanjing to prepare a priest for burial. Upon arrival he finds himself the lone adult among a group of convent girl students and prostitutes from a nearby brothel. When he finds himself in the unwanted position of protector of both groups from the horrors of the invading Japanese army, he discovers the meaning of sacrifice and honor.Written by
Zhang Yimou has crafted a beautifully shot and compelling story set inside horrific events. About all I knew of this movie was it was set in 1937 China and starred Christian Bale. Not knowing much allowed me to be completely open to the journey of the characters. This is an emotionally powerful story about people caught in circumstances for which there seems no hope of survival. The Japanese soldiers are shown as barbaric, but we do meet an officer who attempts to remain honorable though he must do his duty to his superiors. The violence in the movie is brutal, but not graphic or gratuitous. The choices and sacrifices made by the characters never seemed contrived. The arc of Christian Bale's character may seem 'predictable', but it is never false or 'convenient' to the story. All actors are excellent. Because they're foreign to me I had no idea who they are or their other work. At the screening I attended we were introduced to Ni Ni, who said this was her first film. She is both beautiful and compelling. I wish her a long career. Yimou, through his daughter, told us about his journey to make this movie - based on a novel, based on real events. He has told an amazing story that will stay with me for a long time.
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