Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Flowers of War (Jīnlíng Shísān Chāi)

Sandwiched between Christian Bale's Academy Award-winning performance in The Fighter and his final (?) time behind the mask in The Dark Knight Rises, The Flowers of War is a film that understandably and unfortunately failed to win over the critics and probably the majority of movie-going audiences from America at that time. First of all it's a two and a half hour Chinese historical war drama film with a largely unknown cast (to America, at least). Second of all Bale plays a drunkard hick asshole who initially tries to steal money from a Catholic church that no longer has a priest during the Rape of Nanking, China, in 1937. He's not someone you want to root for at first. In fact, you'll kind of wish that the invading Japanese soldiers would shoot him in the face on a few occasions.

As you can figure from that catchy name "Rape of Nanking," this was not a good time to be in Nanking. Especially if you were a woman.

Admittedly, I didn't know about this incident or maybe I had forgot about it being briefly mentioned in one of my history textbooks from school. (Did they even cover the second Sino-Japanese war in American textbooks?) So I can't say what the historical accuracy of this film is, but if even 1/10th of it is the way it was portrayed in this film then all I can say is, "Holy shit." The Japanese Imperial soldiers (with the exception of one or two) are a bunch of rapist assholes in this movie and probably were like that in real life, too. 

It's tragic. 

At this Catholic church is a convent of young Chinese girls, a Chinese boy name George Chen, and eventually a group of surviving young women from the red light district as well. Naturally, mortician John Miller (Bale) is glad to be surrounded by a bunch of women (Harem, anyone? Wait, that's Japanese!), but the leader of the prostitutes Yu Mo (Ni Ni in a fabulous performance... Hell, she's two years older than I am!) asks Miller to use his "American face" to get the ladies of the night out of Nanking. Not surprisingly, that's the same thing that the girls of the convent and George Chen want Miller to do. 

Miller, in typical douchebag drunk hick fashion, says no and decides he'll just stay in the church and drink the wine from the cellar and sleep in a nice cozy bed until this whole thing blows over. 

Then the Japanese soldiers attack the church even though they aren't supposed to do that kind of thing. The red light girls make it to the safety of the cellar, but the convent girls are left unprotected by the brutal Imperial soldiers. Hearing the sounds of their cries as he's hiding in his bedroom, Miller realizes that he is the only one who can do anything. But what?

John Miller decides to put on the uniform of a priest and abandon his hiding place in an effort to protect the girls from the Japanese. But what can an unarmed "priest" do against armed Japanese soldiers? More than you might think. 

This movie is really damn good. Maybe the presence of an American wasn't necessary to the story, but it doesn't hurt, either. It actually helps this film to have a broader reach than it might have had otherwise. Bale's casting (or the casting of an American in general) seems to be where a lot of critics get their panties in a knot, but the critics are just flat out wrong in this case. 

The Japanese actors in this movie do really well, too. I mean, the ones that do more than just scream and rape, of course. Although the guy who do that stuff are convincing, too. 

But this movie really is about the Chinese women and they are a wonderful bunch. See the movie for them if not anyone else. 

Ignore the 40-something percent approval rating from the douchebag critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Zhang Yimou directed a fine film.

Watch this movie... and do so with a pack of kleenex handy. 

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