The Flowers Of War
A tragic historical event, beautifully portrayed by touching characters.
Yimou Zhang is widely known for creating the 2002 hit Hero and then House of Flying Daggers in 2004. Unfortunately to date the only other film from him I have seen was his first feature Red Sorghum. A fantastic film about a young woman in 1930’s china who is sent to a winery to be married, only for her to fall in love with one of the servants. The cinematography is really nice and I have to say the colors look really sharp which is something he seems to explore in his work.
So what is Christian Bale’s first film after the batman (at least for the UK release) During the infamous Japanese rape of Nanking a westerner by the name of John Miller (Bale) is sent to a church to help with the burial of a recently deceased priest. He finds himself taking refuge with a group of girl students and prostitutes from a brothel, he must learn to sacrifice himself in order to help both group of women.
And that word sacrifice is ultimately what the films is trying to get at, but it only reaches that message through a great range of characters, stuck in this tragically horrible event ensuing around them. I will start with John Miller (Bale) not because he is the most important, no I would argue differently in that case, but for the fact he is the first character we get to know. From being set to the church it is clear he is pretty oblivious to the destruction around him, he takes advantage of the churches wealth of wine and flirts with the prostitutes. However when the Japanese attack he is awaken to the reality around him and realises that he must help protect the church and the people taking refuge.
For the students they have innocence that Miller can only pretend to have, the horrible situation they find themselves in means they have to stay together. They at first despise what the prostitutes stand for and one can be forgiven for agreeing with them, for they wear bright clean clothes and have a confident demeanor, even though there is war going on.
This now leads us to the group of prostitutes, lead by Yu Mo (Ni Ni) from a nearby brothel their entrance into the church is largely negative (apart from a flirting Miller) they show little emotion and disregard. Yu Mo acts as the spokesperson for her group, we learn her she shares similarities with the girl students and this exploration of their emotions is important throughout. People have said how Bale gets too much of the attention and means the film plays to a generic cliche of white westerner saves the minority from despair. Whilst its true that Miller gets most of the screen time (bale may have had a say in that) he is the face of hope for all the others, because of his american origin it means he has a power to persuade the Japanese, and I believe that’s why we see a lot of him.
I also need to mention the loan soldier Major Li (Dawei Tong) his main pivotal role is to show the sacrifice that Chinese soldiers undertook during this horrible event, and if you hadn’t already learnt of the message of sacrifice his heroics will surely give one of the clearest of all.
The acting is great, once again Bale shows his diversity and he is without doubt one of my favorite actors of now and ever. In her first film Ni Ni is also fantastic, dealing with a character that flows from hidden to open emotions she seems to be a promising actress and I look forward to seeing her career unfold. All the young actress who play the students are also very good and I suspect we will see more from the lead student Xinyi Zhang.
With such a large range of characters it can often be difficult to balance out all the correct emotions and indeed messages, throw in a powerhouse like Bale and this is all the more difficult. However The Flowers Of War delivers a film of great characters in a plot based on trully horrifying events and I will defiantly get to watching more Yimou Zhang films.