Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Flowers of War – Yimou Zhang (2012)

I can’t in good conscience recommend Yimou Zhang’s “The Flowers of War.”

The film follows John Miller, played by Christian Bale, a western mortician posing as a priest in 1937 Nanking.

We follow him as he tries to save a group of girls who are students at the convent and a group of prostitutes hiding in the church cellar.

I talked in my review of Agnieszka Holland’s “In Darkness” about poeticizing atrocities.  That’s exactly what “The Flowers of War” does.

At one point, during a brutal sequence when a character is raped and murdered, we’re given a beautiful cutaway to a spout of blood spraying from the victim’s chest.  It looks like a gorgeous fountain and I found the beauty with which it was filmed offensive.

And that’s a shame, because this film really does have a lot of things going for it.

“The Flowers of War” is gorgeously shot, but that’s a big part of the problem I had with it.  When danger comes, the music swells dramatically and we know somebody is going to die.

And the Japanese soldiers are directed terribly.  They don’t come off as menacing or maniacal, just cartoonish.

Christian Bale’s performance is more than adequate, though.  He takes his character from scoundrel to hero with complete believability.

Atsuro Watabe and Ni Ni should also get credit for subtle and nuanced performances, no easy feat in such a heavy handed film.

At any rate, if you’re looking for a film that takes a serious look at the atrocities people are capable of during war time, watch “In Darkness.”

Zhang hams it up in “The Flowers of War,” and when you’re dealing with such a delicate subject matter, it takes a steadier hand.  And "Shanghai Triad" is one of my favorite films, so imagine my disappointment.

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