Movie Review. The Flowers of War (simplified Chinese: 金陵十三钗; traditional Chinese: 金陵十三釵), previously called Nanjing Heroes and 13 Flowers of Nanjing.
The film is based on the novel The 13 Women of Nanjing by Geling Yan, and has been selected as the Chinese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards.
As I have said in many prior reviews that I am a History teacher and I have a very bad habit of looking at these type of "Historical Dramas" and either really loving them or just flat out dismissing them due to the historical half-truths and lies that are shown in the film.
I knew that I was going to have a heck of a time with this film because it was made about an event that I have studied from many different sides and that is the 1937 Nanking Massacre.
(Now I am going to ask if you have no idea about what happened back with the historical story before you go see this film then please read this link. I never want to hear another story like I heard after I saw Titanic, when a 18 year old girl stated to her friends, 'I didn't know that the Titanic sank!"
For the rest of the review I will assume that you now know about this event.
With a cost of about US$ 94 Million, this will be the most expensive Chinese film ever made and the fact that it was directed by Zhang Yimou (2002 Hero, 2004 House of the Flying Dagger and 2006 Curse of the Golden Flower, were 3 of his previous films that I really loved), I was looking forward to seeing this film. (Please remember about the dialogue of the film, it was shot about 40% in English and the rest in Mandarin Chinese, So when it comes to Korea you might have a heck of a time trying to follow the film without English subtitles.)
I was ok with the film for about the first 8 minutes and then I saw a clear sign of the Chinese Propaganda start to enter this film with the Heroic Chinese soldier stand against the Japanese and I felt that every time the film went to him, I should have stood up and heard the PROC (Peoples Republic of China) National Anthem. I felt that this really hurt the film and took away from the story.
(Now to clarify a point here in the film, Prior to the outbreak of the war, Germany and China had close economic and military cooperation, with Germany helping China modernize its industry and military in exchange for raw materials. More than half of the German arms exports during its rearmament period were to China. Nevertheless the proposed 30 new divisions equipped and trained with German assistance did not materialize when Germany withdrew its support in 1938, because Adolf Hitler wanted to form an alliance with Japan against the Soviet Union. Link to why Chinese Troops are dressed like Nazi soldiers in this film. (I did notice a few reviews of this film confused about this point and I wanted to give a reason why they were dressed in this way.)
To me, the film could have been the next step of China's entry into the world cinema stage but fails on a few reasons that I let other peoples voices speak.
In the end I am left conflicted by THE FLOWERS OF WAR. On the one hand it is an impressively staged war drama and a frequently exhilarating experience, from which I honestly feel many viewers can get quite a lot. On the other hand, it is a blinkered, unbalanced and frustrating portrayal of the Japanese that makes no attempt to explain, question or even understand their behavior. Because of the film's narrow perspective on this particularly troubling chapter of history, it is very difficult to recommend, despite its many strengths. What can be said with some certainty is that THE FLOWERS OF WAR will reach a wider audience than many of China's other recent militaristic dramas, but it is unlikely to win the Chinese Film Industry many more supporters in the long run.
From Leo in Canada
This movie stumbles upon a extremely sensitive topic in Chinese history, and should be treated seriously.
My great Grandmother's village during wartime was ransacked by the Japanese army with her barely escaping. Being a Chinese Canadian, I almost walked out of the theatre half way through the movie the moment I saw prolonged rape scenes of children.
Yes, during the Nanking massacre, Chinese children and even infants were raped and slaughtered like animals. Yes, Chinese women were raped repeatedly and bayoneted between the legs. Yes, it was a dark and inhumane time in Chinese history. But that does not justify the over exaggerated yet artistic camera work on prolonged rape and murder scenes of children and Chinese Women.
It seems the director was trying to evoke a certain emotional reaction by referencing random scenes from fiction films like grindhouse, yet falls flat with plot holes such as when Chinese soldiers lined up to be killed in a row, or the ludicrous storyline for 2 women to be wandering outside the church, then gang raped and killed by the Japanese soldiers.
I’m unsure if the director even have a clue as to why events of Nanking took place. Before the Japanese even arrived in Nanking, The KMT pulled out of Nanking with soldiers looting, killing and beheading other Chinese believed to be CCP officers, leaving locals (or what’s left of them) to fend for themselves, yet in the film, they’re branded glorious heroes. The CCP during this time were hiding in caves and could only use guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. When the Japanese surrendered, Chairman Mao refused payment from the Japanese for war crimes (hence no proof of what happened in Nanking), and he even thanked them for weakening the KMT in order for the CCP to rise in power.
All in all, what I felt after walking out of the theatre was disgust for the director's lack of sympathy and respect for real history, while capitalizing on utilization of high end camera work for scenes of rape, pedophilia and brutality.
In a nutshell, these 2 voices state why this film should have been a great one but ultimately fails in the end of it.
The actual historical event was horrific enough but to make it into a fictional story with obvious PRC or CCP tie-ins to make the Army look more heroic that it actually was, to me is an insult to the victims and actual survivors. The director had an excellent chance to tell a story that needs to be told and sad to say, this film will will not satisfy anyone's search for the real story of Nanking.
Readers, it is my recommendation that you pass on this film and find other films about this subject that go more into the detail of "Hell on Earth" back in 1937.