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Flowers of War, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Sisters N' Christian, Don't Want To Play No More With Yimou"
1 stars

Of the films that failed to make the shortlist for this year's potential nominees for the Best Foreign-Language Film Academy Award, perhaps the most surprising omission was China's entry, "The Flowers of War." After all, it is reportedly one of the most expensive screen production in the country's history, it deals with a grim historical subject of the sort that usually translates into Oscar votes and it even features a Western-born superstar in Christian Bale in a presumed effort to make it more marketable on the international front. On the surface, it may seem odd at first that such a film would miss the cut but once you actually see it, the only thing that seems odd is that China could not have found a single locally-produced film better than this borderline-offensive mess

Directed by the once-reliable Zhang Yimou, the film takes its inspiration from the Rape of Nanking, the still-startling atrocity in which the Japanese army invaded the city and indiscriminately slaughtered upwards of 300,000 people, taking care to rape as many women as they could along the way. There are presumably many approaches that one could plausibly conceive of to dramatize this grisly chapter of human history but it is doubtful that many of you would have hit upon the notion of showing it through the exceedingly round eyes of John Miller (guess who?), a drunken American mortician who holes up in a Catholic church--a place that is still considered to be neutral ground despite the surrounding chaos and bloodshed--and winds up taking care of a dozen or so schoolgirls who have been left behind following the death of the local priest. Disguising himself in the vestments and gradually laying off the communion wine, the newly rechristened "Father John" tries to figure out a way to get the waifs to safety and even passes up on an opportunity to save himself in order to ensure that they will be okay for the time being.

For a while, he and his charges seem to be under the protection of a seemingly civilized Japanese officer--he likes classical music and stuff!--who promises that no one inside the church will be attacked by his men. The rub comes when the presence of the girls is insisted upon for a party the officer is throwing, one that will presumably begin with music and light hors d'oeuvres and end with the girls being raped and murdered. However, what the Japanese don't know is that there is also a group of a dozen or so local prostitutes who are hiding out in the cellar as well. At first, the schoolgirls and the prostitutes are at each others throat (though not nearly enough to satisfy most fetishists out there) but after a while, the hookers begin to feel noble towards the younger girls and when push comes to shove, the newly ennobled nubiles decide to redeem themselves by offering to take their places at the party in a ruse that will hopefully buy our hero enough time to sneak them out of the city for good. Of course, you may wonder how a group of presumably seasoned practitioners of the oldest profession could possibly pass for a gaggle of schoolgirls but remember, Father John used to be a mortician and is able to put his skills to use for once on the living. . .at least for a little while.

Some of you may detect a slight note of snarkiness in the way I have described the story of "The Flowers of War" but as cynical and gauche as I may be deliberately sounding, it has nothing on the cynical and gauche way that the material has been presented here. Obviously, there is no real way to make a film about the Rape of Nanking that doesn't touch on some deeply unpleasant material but Zhang (who used to make amazing films like "Raise the Red Lantern" and "House of Flying Daggers" but who has lately settled for elaborate gibberish like "Curse of the Golden Flower" and his batshit "Blood Simple" remake "A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop") seems to have gone out of his way to show things in the worst way possible and succeeds. Every atrocity, ranging from a brutal rape to countless bullets tearing through innocent flesh in a flamboyant spray of arterial blood, is lingered upon in a manner that starts off as horrifying but which quickly grows wearisome after a short period of time. Unfortunately, the brief respites between the slaughter--in which the two respective gaggles of gals initially clash with each other before developing a mutual form of respect and admiration--are so ineptly handled (the women are so indifferently sketched out that one longs for the rich and detailed characterizations found in the comparative likes of "Red Tails."

Most offensive of all is the bizarre notion that a story as intrinsically Asian in origin as "The Flowers of War" would need to be told through the eyes of an American in the same vein of all those movies that we have seen over the years in which the struggles of African-Americans throughout history have been related through seemingly unnecessary white characters. Yes, I understand that the presence of Christian Bale may indeed raise the film's profile a bit but face it, the potential size of the international audience for a graphic film on this particular subject is limited at best and it is unlikely that viewers would be somehow lured into attending it. Besides, anyone silly enough to go into the film based solely on Bale's presence will be suitably rewarded with what must certainly be the worst and hammiest turn of his entire career. For the first half of the film, he is obnoxious and unwatchable but after finally ending his self-centered ways and becoming a better person, he is still obnoxious and unwatchable. "How bad is he?," you may ask. He is so bad that I understand that after seeing his performance here, the film "Newsies" is trying to retroactively remove his name from their credits.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23311&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/19/12 21:21:06
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User Comments

3/16/14 Hao luong pretty good movie 4 stars
8/01/13 Mary Field Superb 5 stars
1/28/12 Sara 5 stars heartbreaking, have a box of tissues near by. 5 stars
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  DVD: 10-Jul-2012


  DVD: 10-Jul-2012

Directed by
  Yimou Zhang

Written by
  Heng Liu

  Christian Bale
  Paul Schneider
  Xinyi Zhang
  Ni Ni
  Shigeo Kobayashi
  Atsuro Watabe

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