(KTSF by Sean Au)
There has been countless literary works that document the atrocities committed during the Nanjing Massacre. Prolific Director Zhang Yimou chooses to adapt Yan Geling’s novel “The Flowers Of War” in his tribute to the heroes of the war.
When Nanjing fell to the Japanese in 1937, hundreds of thousands of Chinese attempted to flee the city, for fear of falling prey to the Japanese soldiers. A group of convent girls, a bevy of famous prostitutes of the city and an American mortician, seek refuge in a Catholic cathedral. When the soldiers come into the compound and attempt to kidnap the girls to serve the Japanese Imperial Army, the lone American, John Miller (Christian Bale), puts on the priest’s robe and tries to save them to no avail. Ultimately, it is the group of prostitutes who put their lives at stake to protect the girls.
THE FLOWERS OF WAR is the most significant film from Zhang Yimou since CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER five years ago. With a price tag of about $100 million, it is reportedly China’s most expensive film. THE FLOWERS OF WAR is China’s entry to compete for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, and has already been nominated for a Golden Globe in the same category.
After the ubiquitous gunfire fighting scene in the war movie and scenes that depict the Japanese soldiers’ atrocities, Zhang shifts the focus of the movie indoors to the cathedral. From the eyes of one of the convent girls, we see the ugliest of all human traits, and how others find within themselves the strength and courage to protect others in unimaginable ways.
“In the movie, Yu Mo the leading prostitute, says, ladies of a commercial nature do not know the death of one’s nation. They continue to indulge in their joys across the river.” says Zhang. “What she means is that we need to change the impression of those who hate us. I think that the essence of a person’s honor and glory can be summed up in this poem.”
Newcomer Ni Ni who plays the leading prostitute adds, “They sacrifice their lives to save these girls. You do not have to explain too much. You cannot help but to fall in love with them.”
Zhang Yimou’s choice to cast unknowns in the lead roles delivers a breath of fresh air. Yet, his emphasis on the visual elements of the movie, helps us to find a melancholic beauty in the face of war.
One crippling aspect from making this an outstanding piece of work, was the one-dimensional treatment of some key players while the abrupt change in behavior of some others, proves to be distracting.
THE FLOWERS OF WAR is not Zhang Yimou’s best picture. However, there is no doubt that this spectacular ode to the triumph of the human spirit reminds us why he is one of the most influential creative forces in modern China.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Video courtesy of Wrekin Hill Entertainment.
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