Film Review: The Flowers of War

Given that we have now bid a fond farewell to the London 2012 Olympics, it somehow seems the perfect time for the release of the latest film by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, who directed the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His new film The Flowers of War is probably the most accessible film he’s done to date. Filmed with English dialogue, and with the biggest budget Chinese cinema has ever seen, this is Yimou returning to period epics, which made him one of the best of China’s Fifth Generation directors.

The Flowers of War is set in Nanking during the 1937 siege, when the invading Japanese massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians, and woman were forced into sex slavery. John Miller (Christian Bale) is an American lout, drunkenly stumbling around Nanking and looting in the wreckage left by the Japanese invaders. However, when he himself takes refuge in a Catholic cathedral, he finds a group of convent schoolgirls and prostitutes also hiding out from the massacre. Upon finding them, Miller becomes their reluctant protector as he poses as a priest to try and find a way to get them and himself out of Nanking.

This is Zhang Yimou returning to the epic heroism films that made him great, and with the biggest budget in the history of Chinese cinema (a reported $94 million) he makes every penny count. The action and battle scenes are thrillingly crafted, and are often made to look like a graphic novel adaptation. Yimou certainly knows how to create a beautiful image, and with a running time of over two hours it’s very impressive that he’s able to make every other shot in the film a memorable one.

The only fault with the film though is the rather clumsily constructed characters. Christian Bale’s John Miller goes from being a drunken idiot to the defender of schoolgirls and prostitutes in a heartbeat, without even a little transition or convincing debate. Christian Bale though is able to take all this in his stride and craft a rather convincing performance out of the flimsy script.

Similarly to Bale’s other Summer film The Dark Knight Rises, you do worry at one point that the film is getting carried away and will tumble off the rails at any moment, but Yimou and co. are able to craft a thrilling and beautiful epic, and with the English dialogue this surely will only widen Yimou’s appeal.

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About Eric Wood

Eric Wood is 21 years old, from Bury in Greater Manchester, and a graduate of Salford University where he studied Journalism and English Literature. His first novel comes out later in the year, and he begins work directing his first feature length movie in the summer. Eric absolutely adores all forms of writing and loves movies so he’s the ideal film critic. His greatest inspiration for many years has been Michael Crichton, as Crichton has written novels, non-fiction, screenplays, and directed movies. Eric would love to be able to achieve all of those things in my lifetime.
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