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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: July 16: The Flowers of War

Monday

July 16: The Flowers of War

"A Westerner finds refuge with a group of women in a church during Japan's rape of Nanking in 1937. Posing as a priest, he attempts to lead the women to safety."
Directed by: Yimou Zhang, Rated: R, 146 minutes

The Flowers of War is a tragically beautiful drama telling the story about a conflict not many of us know about. In the winter of 1937, Japanese soldiers captured the Chinese city of Nanking. During their occupation, the Japanese brutally raped and murdered hundreds of thousands of people and massacred the city. Although this part of history isn't the most touched upon in the United States, it's a very emotional conflict in China. The Flowers of War is an emotional depiction of the massacre, told through the innocent eyes of a bunch of school girls trying to survive in a church, while buildings are destroyed and people are slaughtered right outside the doors. While this tragedy is far worse than what's depicted in The Flowers of War, the film does an excellent job focusing on one particular group of people. In times of war, most people forget how much the women and children suffer and, while the film has plenty of moments showing the war on the battlefield, it's the closer to home aspects that pack the emotional punch. 

A very intense opening sequence shows three young girls running from the Japanese, avoiding gunfire and explosions

The Flowers of War tells the story of John Miller (Christian Bale), an American mortician who's caught up in the conflict and poses as a priest at a church that's become a sanctuary for its students. The church holds a dozen young girls and a boy named George (Tianyuan Huang), who has stayed behind to protect them. After a group of colorful prostitutes seek a safe haven in the house of God as well, John takes it upon himself to protect all of them, trying his hardest to shield them from the eyes of the Japanese army. As the dynamic between the two very different groups and the lack of food collide, tension rises inside the church and Miller must not only find a way for them to escape, but a way to provide for them as well. As the events unfold, John's relationship with one of the prostitutes, Yu Mo (the incredible Ni Ni), blossoms and the two gradually fall in love. Even through all of the devastation and destruction around them, the two find something beautiful in each other and realize the importance of everyone around them. Unfortunately for the girls, a Japanese commander learns that they are all part of a choir, and wants to bring them to a "party" for his soldiers and superiors. John and the older women all know that if the girls attend the party, they will most certainly never return, and it becomes a race against time to figure a way out of the horrible situation. 

The gorgeous Ni Ni delivers the film's best performance

The Flowers of War is China's highest grossing movie of all time. Directed by Yimou Zhang (Hero, House of Flying Daggers), the film is as much a visual feast as it is an emotional toll. Zhang manages to combine the brutality of warfare with the beauty of innocence in a remarkable way. For instance, a stained glass window in the church plays a prominent role throughout the film. As a colorful backdrop in a very grim world, it represents hope and faith that there is a way out. However, even beautiful things can lead to deadly places, and bullets fly through the window, reminding us that a war is indeed going on right outside. Zhang also employs the use of a single take, in a very important scene, that leaves you wondering how it was even filmed. With the dark, depressing backdrop, this scene reminded me a lot of similar ones used in Children of Men, to equal effect. However, although masterful in his work, Zhang gets a little carried away with camera tricks and setting up beautiful scenes. There's a little too much focused on making things look pretty and, although for the most part adding to the film, it gets a little overboard as the movie progresses. 

The Flowers of War also features one of the greatest snipers I've seen in a movie and his duel against a battalion of Japanese soldiers is one of the biggest highlights of the film

Even with its few flaws, I would highly recommend The Flowers of War. It's a tragic reminder of a past that's gone and forgotten in our history and a brutal look at how horrible man can be to one another. Along with the history lesson, The Flowers of War gives us great performances by the young Chinese actresses, and the gorgeous Ni Ni steals the show. Even through the tragedy happening around her, she's always smiling and staying strong for the sake of her friends and the younger girls that look up to her. She illuminates the screen every time she's on it, and her colorful personality contrasts beautifully with the dark backdrop. While Bale plays the English-speaking lead, he's not as remarkable as he usually is and his performance is, at best, good. Even then, I highly suggest giving this film your undivided time and attention. 

The Good:
heart-wrenching performances by an incredibly young cast, led by the beautiful Ni Ni
The Bad:
the director's sometimes distracting use of "too much beauty" and the focus on making everything look a lot prettier than the subject matter warrants
The Ugly:
a reminder of how evil man can be and the harm one person can conflict on another

Overall: 7.8/10

Trailer:

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3 Comments:

At July 16, 2012 at 3:56 PM , OpenID todayiwatchedamovie said...

The sniper guy was my favorite part, and the "sniper vision" parts helped show a little of his character as well.

Looks like its easier to post comments now! Whatever you changed worked.

 
At July 16, 2012 at 5:58 PM , Blogger Nick said...

Glad the commenting is easier. And yeah, I loved how they did the sniper vision parts. Scope shots made it all the more realistic and very claustrophobic. Made you feel like you were there in the action.

 
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