Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Flowers of War (Jin líng shí san chai)

January 15, 2012

I am not really familiar with the details of the Rape of Nanking in the late 1930s. However, people from this side of the globe are very familiar with the suffering brought about by the brutal Japanese Imperial Army throughout Asia. In our country, many movies have shown Japanese brutality during the World War II. I thought I would be ready for this movie.

"The Flowers of War" tells the story of a roguish American mortician John Miller (Christian Bale) who was sent to a Catholic church/convent in Nanking to prepare the body of the priest for burial, who was then under siege by the Japanese. When he gets there, he found he also needed to take care of a group of convent girls led by the spirited Shu, a young caretaker boy George, and later, a gaggle of exotic prostitutes led by the classy beauty Yu Mo (Ni Ni). Everyone will go through a touching life-changing story arc that will show how even the most unlikely of people can become heroes in extreme adversity.

Director Zhang Jimou returns to form in this movie. The war action was relentless in the first half we are taken through a continuous barbaric carnage perpetrated by the Japanese soldiers. These parts are reminiscent of the frankly violent blood-spurting "Saving Private Ryan" beach scene. The terror is very palpable. While the scenes of soldiers being shot and killed were hard to watch, the several minutes of violence to children was even harder to bear! There are also touches of "Schindler's List", especially in the scenes where children were hiding.

The second half is more dramatic with a some contrived cheesy moments. The character of the kind-hearted Japanese officer Hasegawa was a nice counter-balance to their other heinous acts of atrocity. I felt the sequence when a couple of prostitutes sneaking out to retrieve trivial things in their brothel was a rather unnecessary long detour. There will even be a scene that will remind you of Gwyneth Paltrow's body wrap scene in "Shakespeare in Love." However, when the film reaches its climax, everything falls back into place and the noble message is delivered on point. This movie may be difficult to watch because of the scenes of violence, but this is worth watching because the story of heroism and redemption was very good, well-told and well-executed.

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