The Flowers of War
- Director: Zhang Yimou
- Genre: Drama
- Cert: 15A
- Details: China/ 146 mins
With City Of Life And Death still fresh in the memory, I wasn't ready for another two-and-a-half hours of horror set during the Rape of Nanking. Because the action takes place inside a church sheltered from the revulsion outside, we're spared a re-run but it's for this same reason, and the director's insistence of distracting us with 'cool shots', that The Flowers Of War lacks zing when called upon.
John Miller (Bale) is an American mortician employed to take care of the remains of a priest just as the Japanese invade Nanking. Looking to hold up in the relative sanctuary of the church until the worst blows over, the self-centred Miller is forced to accept the responsibility for the safety of the thirteen students, and later the twelve prostitutes, hiding inside. Posing as a priest, Miller can only do so much, however.
Directors set their stall out in the first moments of a film and these moments can tell you what to expect for the rest of the duration. Yimou Zang's opening salvo has a group of students running through a bombed-out city; the action turns to slow motion as a horse carriage zips by, pinning the students to the wall – a close up of the carriage cutting all but one of the student's cello strings is a hint of what's to come. I call this The Keyhole Shot©. You have seen movies where the camera zooms into a keyhole and out the other side? Looks cool, right? Or at least it did once upon a time.
These shots, though, are bullshit. They are signposts that the director is more concerned with drawing attention to themselves and their cool shots rather than concentrating on the characters and the story, the reasons for the film's existence in the first place. The Raven had a Keyhole Shot© early on and look how that turned out. This obsession with being cool allows director Yimou Zang, known for the stylish House Of Flying Daggers and Hero, to wander off topic later on. Admittedly, that wander is an exciting one where a Chinese major singlehandedly take out a Japanese platoon, shot in the same style as Saving Private Ryan. What it has to do with the movie is uncertain, however. An exploration of real honour maybe but it smacks of being a sidestep from the story. Think the sci-fi scene in The Life Of Brian.
The performances are fine despite sometimes being lumbered with obvious dialogue: 'Last night you were a drunken bastard but today you are a hero,' a prostitute tells Bale, while Bale himself as to utter 'I am a priest' while dressed in a priest's robes. That's forgivable seeing as some lines in this adaptation of Geling Yan's novel can get lost in translation.
Despite Yimou Zang's best efforts to meander, The Flowers Of War is quite touching at the close.
Review by Gavin Burke | 12:17 | Thursday 26th July 2012 | Movie Review
A very good film indeed - and much more accessible than City Of Life And Death. It deserves wider distribution, but oddly it's barely being released at all. Even the BD/DVD is out on Monday! A strange fate for China's most expensive film, with a respected director and a hugely talented European actor.Posted 14:10 | Sat 4th Aug 2012
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