The Flowers of War


Christian Bale in Zhang Yimou's uncomfortable mix of style and violence Discuss this article

Arguably the best stylist of China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers, Zhang Yimou has directed gorgeously colour-coded potboilers (Red Sorghum), opulent historical spectacles (Hero) and grit-flecked neo-realistic parables (The Story of Qiu Ju). He’s never tried to balance all three in one film, however, and this overstuffed movie, set during the Second Japanese-Sino War’s Nanking massacre, suggests that he’d be better off sticking to one mode at a time.

As that reign of terror begins, an American mortician (Bale) dodges bullets and bayonets on the way to a local church. Sharing this holy sanctuary with orphaned schoolgirls and dolled-up women of the night, his conscience will eventually awaken and heroic deeds will be done.

Essentially a ’40s melodrama laden with modern representations of brutality, The Flowers of War does put its star’s characteristic intensity to good use. Having played a youth suffering at the hands of WWII Japanese soldiers in Empire of the Sun, Bale’s presence as protector here makes this an unintentional answer film. But Zhang’s mixture of unsparing violence, mawkish sentimentality and garish flourishes creates one uncomfortable aesthetic. After watching gut-wrenching explosions throw brightly hued garments into the sky you wonder whether such floral, questionably flamboyant images are underwriting war’s horrors, or the other way around.

By David Fear
Time Out Doha,

The Flowers of War

  • Duration: 146
  • Released: Thu, 26 Apr
  • Classification: PG15
  • Language: English,Chinese
  • Director: Yimou Zhang
  • Stars: Christian Bale, Ni Ni, Xinyi Zhang, Paul Schneider

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