Genre: War Drama
Director: Zhang Yimou
Starring: Christian Bale, Xinyi Zhang, Ni Ni, Atsurô Watabe, Tianyuan Huang
Language: Mandarin, English, Japanese, Shanghainese
Duration: 145 min.
In 1937, Nanking stands at the forefront of a war between China and Japan. As the invading Japanese Army overruns the city, desperate civilians seek refuge behind the nominally protective walls of a western cathedral. Here, John Miller, 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.
The Flowers of War is a film directed by Zhang Yimou, written by Heng Liu, and based on the novel The 13 Women of Nanjing by Geling Yan. It is China's official submission to the 84th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, and has been nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 69th Golden Globes.
Hailed as the most expensive Chinese blockbuster of all time, directed by one of it's most highly successful and respected filmmakers, and starring one of Hollywood's biggest A-listers, The Flowers of War sure has some lofty expectations to live up to. Especially having to follow up Lu Chuan's phenomenal telling of the Nanjing Massacre, City of Life and Death.
Unsurprisingly, it is a grand spectacle, featuring glorious cinematography from Zhao Xiaoding, who has worked with Zhang since 2002's Hero, capturing some of the most intense battle sequences of the year, which of course consist mainly of legendary deeds of selfless heroism on the part of the Chinese soldiers, seen through the clouds of smoke, dust, and fog. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with this type of embellishment, it's just a very typical thing to see from a Chinese film.
The set design and locations here surpass anything Zhang's done before, the bombed out city is amazingly reconstructed, and the massive stone cathedral where the bulk of the movie takes place is impressive in its size and detail. Even the overall acting is pretty good, or as good as you would expect from a film of this magnitude. Christian Bale handles the large than life character he's given with a strong performance displaying ample charisma; and newcomers Ni Ni, who plays the lead courtesan Yu Mo, and Tianyuan Huang, who plays the orphan church boy George, are both delightful to watch.
It's the story and script that holds this film back for me. There are far too many convenient 'only in the movies' moments, and too often the characters make random inconsistent decisions just to manipulate the plot, not to mention the sudden and unexplained about-face that Bale's character undergoes. It's all very unconvincing and some of it just feels shoehorned in, included in order to tick off check marks in the blockbuster rulebook.
This certainly isn't as bad as most of the critics seem to think, but it's also far from the masterpiece that the names and dollars involved should be capable of delivering. Despite its flaws, I do think it is pleasing enough make the shortlist, and would not be surprised if it receives an official nomination from the Academy.
— Bonjour Tristesse