The Flowers of War
"The Flowers of War" has broken new ground for
But when it comes to storytelling, Zhang Yimou's 19th feature is decidedly backward-looking: A lavish period weepie set against the atrocities of the Nanking Massacre, "Flowers" abounds with well-worn movie archetypes and slathers on schmaltz.
Based on Geling Yan's novel "13 Flowers of
"Flowers" unfolds in
The broad strokes of the screenplay by
Innocence-versus-experience is an undeniably strong theme. The girls' tender adolescence heightens its impact, especially given the historical facts. The Nanking Massacre is also known as the Rape of Nanking, and it's more than a figurative description: The Japanese invaders committed horrendous sexual assaults against the female population. In "Flowers," the girls' safety becomes the paramount concern of the survivors holed up in the cathedral.
But however terrible and real the threat of rape, the clumsy screenplay turns every Japanese soldier into a rampaging maniac, some of them screaming exultantly upon discovering virgins. The exception is commander
The cultured military leader is one of the character perennials that populate the film, chief among them the whore with a heart of gold and the noncommittal loner who becomes a reluctant hero. From the moment Miller mutters, "I'm not good with kids," there's no question that he'll shake off his boozy haze to protect them.
Mouthing dialogue that thuds more than it sings, Bale never quite shakes off the sense of performance, but at his best he embodies a man stepping awkwardly into costume -- Miller drunkenly dons a dead priest's clothing -- and growing, predictably, to fill the role.
Most of the younger performers, including the impressive Ni Ni, are first-timers doing what they can in thinly conceived parts. All but stealing the film is newcomer Huang Tianyuan as George, an orphaned teen boy who grew up in the cathedral and proves its most steadfast defender.
It's George, who fits no preconceived mold, and whom Huang makes real amid the self-consciously artful visions of murder and mayhem, who brings home the story's central notion of selflessness and sacrifice.
"The Flowers of War" Movie Trailer
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