The Flowers of War Reviews
Great Film! It's a great movie, very touching. The background is Nanking Massacre, at that cruel and desperate history moment, the director finds a special perspective to show us goodness, hope, sacrifice and humanity. Although I've seen so many war movies before, this one is different. There is no positive way to spin what was a shameful event in Japan's history, and for what it's worth I think that Zhang Yimou delineates well the soldiers occasional insecurity, homesickness, and humanisation brought on by paranoia and pressure from above. A movie well-worth watching, and which I would like to watch for a second time to re- establish which moment are intentionally humorous, which moments are unintentionally humorous, and which moments are tragic. Kudos for Zhang Yimou for tackling such a visited topic (That of the Nanjing massacre) which a freshness, and even more kudos to Christian Bale for stepping up to the plate and giving in a great performance.
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.
The story is about how a dozen of prostitutes saved girl students from uncivilized Japanese soldiers during the Nanjing (Nanking) massacre period, set in 1937.
The director Yimou Zhang told a powerful, touching and beautiful story, while delivering stunning visual effects as always. All actors from different countries did an amazing job in making so many strong characters in 3 languages, not just the American 'priest', but also those prostitutes, the boy George, all the children, Japanese officers, and the Chinese 'traitor'.
Bale made an excellent performance in this Chinese film and a Chinese leading actress, Ni Ni, is new face and became a new "Mou girl" like Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi.
Many people have heard of the infamous Rape of Nanking, a phrase coined by historian Iris Chang, and know that it was one of the most vile atrocities to ever take place.
While I was hoping that veteran director Zhang Yimou would take a sensitive, albeit Chinese centered, look at these macabre events, the Flowers of War was a bit too jingoistic for my taste.
There are brave acts of heroism in every war, and as much as the Japanese were responsible for acts of unspeakable brutality, the saintly Chinese soldier theme was driven home a bit too much. I mean, when you take the time to show one soldier crying because of his comrade's bravery, it feels a bit like propaganda.
However, I don't blame Yimou entirely for this as I heard that the Chinese censors proved very difficult to work with during the editing process. And I do appreciate him attempting to give nuance to some of the Japanese soldiers, most notably Mr. Hasegawa.
While the film feels heavy-handed, it is entertaining. As mentioned before, Yimou's breathtaking visual style made for some very entertaining cinema, especially during the battle sequences. And while far from objective, the story of a group of disparate people banding together in the face of momentous adversity always tugs a bit at the heart strings.
However, moving as some moments are, the over-the-top nature of this film is further exacerbated by Christian Bale's performance. Whether you are an ardent supporter of Bale, or have loathed him ever since he first appeared on the silver screen, I think everyone can agree that his performance here is just plain ridiculous. Whether it is him being a hedonistic booze-hound in the first act, or his dramatic turn as an honorable man of God in the second, he does it with no amount of subtlety. I like Bale and I don't know who is to blame for this ham-fisted act, but it just doesn't work here.
While I could hardly expect a Chinese film about a massacre of Chinese people to be devoid of emotion, the film bore too close a resemblance to straight up propaganda for me to take it too seriously.
It is only human nature to believe that all human beings will rise to the occasion under the worst possible circumstances which is the appeal of a movie like "The Flowers of War," set during the Rape of Nanking. And despite a couple of acts of wanton stupidity, that's pretty much true for those here under siege, with it even being implied that Miller might be answering a slightly divine calling(well, somebody sure loves their stained glass). So, while I buy the final results, as this is based on an actual story, I'm not quite sure about the rest, as there are not only contrivances but the second oldest cliche, as the movie drags on to its eventual finale.
Flowers of War definitely has the look and feel of a good film. The casting of Christian Bale gives a notable weight to the film, who excels at his part. His emotions are conveyed authentically, and he gives his character a personality and depth the rest of the cast comes nowhere close to matching. The cinematography is well done, with the overall world building of 37' Nanking looking especially authentic.
The problem starts with the direction by Yimou Zhang. He is far too indulgent for his own good, adding needless stylistic flourishes to every scene. The action, instead of feeling kinetic, feels disjointed and strangely distant from the overall narrative. The constant slowing of the frames, the never-ending shifting of the camera, the angles, everything serves as a distraction. Far from feeling inventive, it feels gimmicky, cheap, and notably out of place.
The script also has a number of problems. The Japanese are not portrayed with any nuance, a source of controversy in the wake of the film's release, with the entire conflict being framed in the most simplistic of terms. We are reminded, through a terrible narration, of how great certain characters are, and how bad others are. The dialogue often leaves a lot to be desired, giving us a number of shrieking characters who do little else but whine and raise their voice. There is no real character development to be had, rather we are treated to obviously vulnerable characters in obviously vulnerable situations, in a shameless attempt to play on the emotions of the audience. Everything is all too contrived, and feels contrived in every sense.
Clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, you'd think that the film, considering its story, would be airtight with few loose ends, until, of course, you remember that this is an awards push foreign film, something that, at this point, should almost be by definition slow, so sure enough, the film slows down considerably for many an extented period of time, dulling things down and really showing just how overlong this film truly is, as if the film's spending too much time focusing on other matters doesn't already tell you. The film opens up taking what seems like the longest time meditating upon the war sequences that just end up not being the central focus of the film, thus leaving the incorporation of the primary plot rather inorganic, which isn't to say that the unevenness ends there, for although the major shifts in focus are rather few and far between, when they do happen, the film tends to stick with them too long, drawing them out with excessive looseness that makes them less and less interesting, while making certain other aspects less and less interesting because we spend too much time away from them, and as Roger Ebert would tell you, it's pretty hard to make a lot of parts in this film less interesting. Ebert came down pretty hard on the film's central plot, deeming it rather uninteresting and even rather expendable, especially considering the level of worthiness within the true war tragedy story that lays beyond this fictional story, and really, while I certainly enjoyed the primary story and still found it to be rather worthy, it wasn't the most interesting thing in the world, though it's not like the war segments make things any more interesting, because no matter which plot or theme the film retreats to, it all has the same level of oomph, which really isn't that much. I don't know if it's because he used to working with less restrained and less lengthy films or whatever, but director Zhang Yimou doesn't entirely seem like he has his heart fully in this, or if he does, then he tries too hard, either limping out or putting so much meditative emphasis upon the story that, after a while, he just ends up drowning the story with too much slowness and not enough substance, which not only renders the film rather dull, but emotionally distant, which of course makes such aspects as brutal war violence come off as gratuitous (Yet still not quite "Saving Private Ryan" brutal and gratuitous, so there's another strike against this film's attempts) and certain other aspects come off as almost profoundly unsubtle. Well, to be fair, it's not like the film was ever going to be all that subtle to begin with, because the script is riddled with character types, moments of manipulation and even the occasional cliche, and tosses them all together with a kind of messiness that doesn't ring terribly false, considering the performances behind it all, yet just as rarely ring all that true. The film has its moments, and those moments seem to grow more recurring as the film progresses, especially around the time we reach a perhaps too sentimental yet mostly moving final act, yet the fine moments don't quite break through enough to influence the film, as a whole, and while the low points never descend that low, they ultimately prevail in leaving the film to fall short of goodness, let alone what it should have been. However, what it is as a final product is an effort that may not hit quite as much as it should, yet hits often enough and often hard enough for the film's descent to decent to be a close call, as the film will indeed hit high points hard, while keeping consistent with a few aspects that never let down.
The art direction on the film is nothing short of upstanding, with the production being assembled in a kind of artistic way that both catches your eye and emphasizes the atmosphere, while Zhao Xiaoding delivers on gritty yet lovely cinematography with clever staging to capture the environment and emphasize the striking color and lighting, sometimes breathtakingly. The stylish grit of the film plays with the atmosphere and certainly pays quite the compliment to the war sequences that showcase the action directing talents of Zhang Yimou, who may not be having people do the insanely cool over-the-top wuxia stuff that I bet he wishes he could have these people do, yet delivers all the same on stylish and slickly concieved, yet still realistically gritty, explosive and intense war combat that plants you in the heat of the battle in a fashion that's both dazzling and somewhat hard to watch. Sure, Yimou maybe makes the action a little bit too hard to watch, keeping things pretty hardcore all too often, while typically keeping a certain emotional distance that leaves the gratuitousness of the brutality to rise more to attention, yet on the whole, Yimou's war action is relatively restrained enough to produce genuine intenisty and, during the occasions in which Yimou finds a comfortable grip on resonance and depth, even genuine dramatic emotion. Yes indeed people, there are points where Yimou does, in fact, find a comfortable grip on resonance and depth, or at least as comfortable of a grip as he can find, as the film is just so unsubtle in scripting and just enough in direction for resonance to go too diluted for Yimou to redeem it all that much, though he tries, and to quite a bit of avail at points, for although the film never hits as hard at it should, Yimou will draw some potency from the film and engross you, providing poignant moments that carry through within this film just enough to create golden moments that define this story. These are worthy moments that bring to life a worthy story, yet they remain few and far between, as Yimou primarily keeps his distance when it comes to resonance, and thus, the duty of carrying this film's intrigue falls upon the shoulders of the cast members, almost all of whom deliver on distinct humanity and depth, which is more than you can say about the characters themselves, as they are written by Liu Heng with few note, yet executed with the depth the depth they need. Tom Hanks' Captain John Miller-I mean, Christian Bale's John Miller character is particularly hurt by Liu Heng's faulty characterization, as he is not much more than "that" drunk punk who finds a path to redemption once the opportunity to do the extraordinary presents itself, and Heng makes sure that you realize that by overdoing the initial dirtbaggery of Miller before hucking him somewhat messily into redemption, thus making for a character who, in the hands of a less competent actor, would have been uneven and barely likable, yet truly compels when handled by Christian Bale, who delivers on a human charisma and depth that goes undercut by the writing, through which Bale manages to generally bypasses with the confident presence and acting skill needed to make Miller a worthy head to this cast. Outside of Bale, there is a myriad of inspired performances that go held back by the writing and hit-or-miss direction, like most every other strength in this film, yet, also like most every other strength in this film, cut through just enough to leave an impression that tragically can't redeem this film as genuinely good, but come close enough to get you engaged more often than not.
Bottom line, the film is consistently slow and often rather overdrawn, with particularly problematic padding leaving certain areas of story to stretch out until the shifts into other areas go rendered rather inorganic and the film itself is rendered somewhat uneven, which isn't to say that there aren't mutual aspects in ever angle of the film, as there's no escaping extended periods of emotional distance that often make the film a bit dull and disengaging and bring more to attention the gratuitousness of much of the violence, as well as the unsubtleties and conventions that ultimately leave this film to fall as no more than decent, yet still have more than enough hit points to keep you going, whether it be the gritty yet lovely art direction, intense war sequences, or occasions in which director Zhang Yimou finds a grip on genuine emotional resonance, made all the stronger by a slew of inspired performances, which keep consistent enough in their inspiration to help greatly in carrying the Chinese "Saving Priv-I mean, "The Flowers of War" and leaving it to stand as an all too flawed, yet typically enjoyable and sometimes genuinely compelling study on the rather undermentioned yet unthinkable war tragedy that was the "Rape of Nanjing".
2.5/5 - Fair
It is a good movie, but far from being a great movie. The "trademark" of the director Zhang Yimou ("Heroes") - lots of colour - is visible everywhere and stunning visual effects could not be ignored... but the multilingual "Flowers" with the big star Bale as a mortician posing as a priest during the massacre of Nanking did nothing spectacular to bring the terrible events closer to my heart! With an estimated budget of $100 million, "Flowers" is the most expensive movie in China's history and an evident point of pride for the country, which is looking to up its stock in Hollywood... but for me didn't do much!
Well executed work of art... without the real power to move!
Maybe I expected too much?
Set in Cantonese with English subtitles, Christian Bale stars in an intense film that conveys the reflection of war and those inflicted by it. Looking for a good drama, this is definitely worthy!
It is hauntingly sad at times and tragically beautiful also and disturbing. We all know what happened during this turbulent time and the film leaves no holds barred and for that it works better. The characters are likable and the whole film seems to flow smoothly, if a little slow at times. If you are a fan of Chinese historical movies or just Christian Bale then this is worth seeing.