The Flowers of War
AKA: 13 Women of Nanjing, The Thirteen Women of Jinling, 13 Flowers of Nanjing, Nanjing Heroes, Heroes of Nanking, 13 Women of Jinling
Year of release: 2011
Director: Zhang Yimou
Action director: Bruce Law
Producers: Bill Kong, Zhang Wei-Ping, David Linde, Deng Chao-Ying, Leo Shi Young
Writers: Liu Heng, Yim Goh-Ling
Cinematography: Zhao Xiao-Ding
Editing: Meng Pei-Cong
Music: Chen Qi-Gang
Stars: Christian Bale, Ni Ni, Zhang Xin-Yi, Huang Tian-Yuan, Han Xi-Ting, Zhang Dou-Dou, Watabe Atsuro
Rated R for violence, language, and sexual content
Movie Review Index
If I was perhaps not so grizzled and jaded, I might not say that the DVD release of The Flowers of War -- a Chinese production starring Christian Bale -- was timed to coincide with The Dark Knight Rises hitting theatre screens. At any rate, even taking out the seeming stunt casting of Bale out of the equation, this is a film that never really seems to live up to its' full potential.
Based on the novel 13 Flowers of Nanjing written by Yan Geling, the events here take place in the period in 1937 that would come be known as the "rape of Nanjing", where the invading Japanese troops became infamous in their mistreatment of the Chinese residents. Bale plays John Miller, a mortician for hire who has come to the Chinese capital to bury a priest. At first, he is more concerned with getting paid and ransacking a cache of wine, but soon finds himself as a reluctant hero trying to protect the groups of young students and prostitutes who have come to the church for sanctuary.
A major stumbling block in The Flowers of War's intended cinematic journey comes down to Christian Bale himself. Normally an intense actor who can lend credibility to characters as varied as serial killers and superheroes, Bale seems to be auto-pilot here, making neither the drunken or anti-hero aspects of John Miller all that interesting or entertaining. You really could have thrown in any number of actors into Bale's role and gotten the same results.
In its' defense, there are times when The Flowers of War becomes compelling cinema. Most notably, there is a sequence where a lone Chinese sniper attempts to take out a Japanese platoon that is threatening the students hiding in the church which is tense and exciting, ranking among some of the best modern war battle footage produced anywhere in the world over the past several years. And even though this movie does not go as far as similar fare covering the same period such as Black Sun and City of Life and Death, there is some brutal violence displayed here that will definitely leave its' mark on the audience.
Unfortunately, though, director Zhang Yimou, who has long been regarded as one of the top tier when it comes to Mainland film-makers, never seems to live up to his well-deserved reputation and pull all the various elements together enough to make The Flowers of War something other than a very gorgeous, but still strangely and ominously hollow, motion picture.