The Flowers of War

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flowers of warI would much rather have a film give us a fictional story surrounding a real event, then a movie that is made “based” on a real person or event and makes up 75% of what is on the screen. Ron Howard is the king of giving us stories about real people that completely fictionalize what is on the screen.

Now, if you want to make a romance and put the couple on the Titanic – go for it (just write it for adults, not teenagers). We understand these are just characters and are less likely to find a problem with it.

I’m guessing Chinese audiences won’t mind the liberties taken with this film, which is the Raping of Nanking story. It’s 1937 and the Imperial Japanese Army invaded the Chinese capital city. Over 300,000 civilians were slaughtered, and many of the women raped first. These certainly rank up there with some of the most despicable war crimes ever.

The fictional part of the story involves Christian Bale as an alcoholic mortician. He’s more interested in getting paid, drinking, and sleeping with a few of the prostitutes that have taken refuge inside the huge church. The middle schoolgirls are shocked by the dress, make-up, and talk of these interlopers.

Some might feel Bale hammed it up, but I enjoyed his performance.

Talented filmmaker Yimou Zhang (House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou) wanted to make this an epic picture, but just like Steven Spielberg with his recent War Horse – they’re both very flawed films.

In this story, the priest has died and a young teenage boy takes charge. Bale keeps demanding payment, but settles with the sacramental wine while waiting. One of the schoolgirls has a father trying to help them escape the best he can.

There are, of course, those schmaltzy sides of the script. We got the evil guy that loves music, and seems to show some sympathy for the plight of the girls.

There are plenty of handsomely photographed scenes, and I was dazzled by many of the visuals. The stained glass windows were shot nicely (pun intended).

Actress Ni Ni was interesting as the clichéd prostitute with a heart of gold. Another cliché character is the sharpshooter that doesn’t seem to miss.

The score wasn’t memorable (aside from a splendid violin solo from Joshua Bell).

At the end of the day, this movie was just dark and depressing to watch. I remember arguing with my grandmother when Schindler’s List came out. She thought it was crazy that I didn’t want to see it. I told her I go to the movies for a variety of reasons, but watching Jews being tortured and killed wasn’t one of them. I did go see it and was pleasantly surprised.

This is a movie that I can’t recommend to anyone. There’s only so many rape and torture scenes with young girls that I could take.

It gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.

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