Directed by Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers), with an epic $100-million budget, The Flowers of War depicts one of the greatest historical tragedies in the world war, specifically in Chinese capital Nanking.
Based on Geling Yan's The Thirteen Flowers of War and set against the backdrop of post Japanese conquest, we see John Miller (Christian Bale) – motivated by a reason hardly altruistic in the form of an elegant prostitute, Yu Mo (Ni Ni) – rescuing a group of 13 orphaned girls ordered by Japanese officer (Atsuro Watabe) to "perform for the Japanese". Miller is also assisted by a young man George (Huang Tianyuan). But we all know they do not really want to listen to a bunch of non-professionals sing, right?
The Rape of Nanking has historically been noted as one of the most horrifying Japanese atrocities during the world wars. About 200,000 to 300,000 of civilians were brutally killed and tens of thousands of girls, women and even men were raped.
Interestingly, The Flowers of War chooses a white protagonist to tell the tale. Does this help present a more neutral stand? We are not quite sure. In contrast, the Chinese prostitutes, now redeemed, nobly offers to swop clothes with the young untainted girls too.
The contrasting characters, often denoted by their race in this film, are colourful and engaging except for the white drunken man – cliched and lacking in depth. While there are several symbolically striking moments, we found the film a tad too slow to remain engaging despite the dazzling visuals, many such as in the Catholic church shot on impressive sets. Nonetheless, The Flowers of War is still a must-watch for Yimou fans and history buffs.