Homefront movie
7.25 out of 10
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire movie
8.75 out of 10
Disney's Frozen movie
10.0 out of 10
Delivery Man movie
6.75 out of 10
8.25 out of 10

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Flowers of War

Selfless Sacrifices

Rated: R Strong violence, including a sexual assault, disturbing images and brief strong language
Release Date: January 20, 2012
Runtime: 2 hr 21 min

Director: Zhang Yimou
Writers: Heng Liu, based on the novel '13 Flowers of Nanjing' by Geling Yan
Cast: Christian Bale, Ni Ni, Tong Dawei, Tianyuan Huang, Kefan Cao, Atsuro Watabe, Zhang Xinyi

SYNOPSIS: A westerner John Miller finds unexpected refuge in a cathedral along with a group of schoolgirls and courtesans during the the Japanese invasion of China's capital city of Nanking in 1937. Posing as a priest, John tries to find a way to lead the women out of the city and to safety.

REVIEW: Director Yimou Shang, one of the most respected and best-known directors of the Chinese Fifth Generation, is acclaimed by his western peers and international film festivals for such films as Raise the Red Lantern and the visually stunning Hero. Based on Yan Geling's novel '13 Flowers of Nanjing" that focuses around an often looked at moment in Chinese history, Shang takes a lengthy tale from veteran screenwriter Heng Liu (Assembly, Tie ren) to bring The Flowers of War to life. 
In 1937 China, the Japanese have invaded the city of Nanking (Nanjing). In the midst of brutal and prolonged battle over the city and attempts by the citizens to escape to a refuge outside the city, several young female students trying to escape are forced to return to their western catholic cathedral through smoke, debris and firefights. Also trying to reach the cathedral is John Miller (Christain Bale, The Fighter), a mortician hired to prepare and bury the Father of the cathedral who was killed during the fighting. Left to care for the schoolgirls, young adopted orphan George (Tianyuan Huang) pleads with John to help them escape from the cathedral and the city. Soon a group of Chinese courtesans, or prostitutes, from the Qin Huai River district make their own way to the cathedral, filled with the promise of protection by one of the attendants of the church who had since run away. John Miller tries to take advantage of both the accommodations, the available wine, and the ministrations of the lovely professional women. But when Japanese soldiers try to ransack the church and victimize the young girls, John, who had fallen unconscious and drunk wearing the late Father's robes and collar, realizes that he is the only one who has the capability to protect the girls from harm by the Japanese inside and outside the church walls and keep the courtesans hidden.

Both brutal and beautiful, The Flowers of War looks at the atrocities that the Japanese committed on the Chinese citizens during their campaigns in the then Chinese capital city of Nanking. Based loosely on historical events, the schoolgirls are forced to withstand uncivilized acts from the enemy combatants, even as they have to temper their disgust of the courtesans taking up room and resources inside the church. Outside the church walls, countless bodies are strewn along the rubble of the fallen city. Japanese soldiers corral any Chinese citizens along like cattle, shooting their guns in the air to drive the people along, making a sport of it. Any girls they come across end up being used for additional sport. Inside the walls, the schoolgirls are taken in by the myth of what the courtesans are meant to be, touted and reviled in poetry. Quickly they come to despise them, not wanting the courtesans to even use their bathroom. They bicker and fight with each other, with only George and John to keep them civil and apart. When the Japanese breach the nominal security of the church walls, they chase after the found schoolgirls in attempts to rape them. Even after the Japanese are eventually led away from the Cathedral by a lone Chinese sniper, Major Li (Tong Dawei, Red Cliff), the schoolgirls and women are irreversibly affected and brought closer together.

The cast is superb. Christian Bale brings the same intensity to his role of the mortician turned protector as he did in 
The Fighter. John Miller comes to the cathedral hired to prepare and bury the Father of the church. Putting his life in peril just to make it to the church, he only stays to take advantage of the accommodation, the church's winery stash, and the hope of finding some donation box money. But when the schoolgirls are at risk, John realized that he needs to focus on the others in his charge as opposed to himself. Newcomer Ni Ni as prim and proper courtesan Yu Mo is astounding, emotional and breathtaking. Young Tianyuan Huang's character George is both timid and loyal, desperate to keep his promise to the church's Father, his adopted father, to keep the girl safe. Zhang Xinyi comes to the role of schoolgirl Shu with a heavy heart as she is held responsible by the other schoolgirls for her father's failure to get them all out of the city by boat and the fact that her father (Kefan Cao, The Founding of a Republic) had turned to the Japanese as a consultant - a traitor. On the other side of the battlefield is the cultured and intelligent music loving Colonel Hasegawa (Atsurô Watabe, Hard Romanticker) who apologizes for the actions of his soldiers and guarantees the safety of the girls by the placing of guards around the entire perimeter, all with the simple request that the girls sing for him.

The Flowers of War may suffer the same fate as other films with the release of Lu Chuan's outstanding City of Life and Death. Will it become a matter of Armageddon versus Deep Impact? The Flowers of War focuses on the horrors that the Japanese soldiers committed to the Chinese. Were all the Japanese soldiers and officers as depraved as depicted? Is the film more of a propaganda piece? There is little in way of historical foundation over than the statistic of 200,000 slaughtered people during the invasion of Nanking, the start of the film on December 13, 1937, and the set piece of Winchester Cathedral.

With Christian Bale in the middle of the tale, American audiences may show some interest in the film's limited release. Some of the elements leading up to the climatic finale may falter and require you to suspend your disbelief a bit, and some of the dialogue may take you out of the 30s and into more recent decades, but
historical accuracy aside The Flowers of War is emotionally charged, beautifully shot, and well-paced for its 141 minutes. Cinephiles interested in war-torn civilian dramas should check it out.

WORTH: Matinee or Rental

No comments:

Post a Comment