Blu-ray™ Review – Zhang Yimou’s ‘The Flowers of War’

Christian Bale ("John Miller") stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment's The Flowers of War.
‘All wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers’ – Francois Fenelon

The Flowers of War (2011) – From director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) comes a truly beautiful tale of heroism. The film is based on the historical novel by Japanese author Yan Geling, which, in turn, is based on the true events that occurred during the Chinese war. Set in 1937, the Chinese city of Nanjing was invaded by the Japanese army. Tens of thousands of Chinese were raped and murdered by the invading army, however, the film did not demonize the Japanese–it was not the intention of the author, nor was it the intention of director Yimou. The emphasis is placed on the group of women and girls who hid in a cathedral to escape the invading armies. The film stars Academy Award® winner Christian Bale (The Fighter, 2010) as John Miller–a mortician who poses as a priest in attempts to lead these young women to safety. The Flowers of War is the first Chinese film production to feature a Western star.

The film is narrated from the perspective of 13-year-old Shu (Zhang Xinyis film debut) who was among a group of young school girls surviving the war by seeking refuge in an old cathedral with George (Huang Tianyuan), who took the responsibility upon himself to protect these girls after the death of their priest. The heroes in this tale aren’t what you would consider a traditional “hero-type” to be–but are a group of beautiful prostitutes. Women who put their own lives on the line to save the young school girls. Miller (Bale) mostly served as a chaperon in the film.

‘A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself’ – Joesph Campbell

Ni Ni ("Yu Mo") and Christian Bale ("John Miller") star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment's The Flowers of War.

In the beginning, Miller was self-serving and disrespectful. As a mortician, he was sent to the cathedral to prepare the body of the deceased priest. Since his body was no longer there, as payment, he took over the dead priest room in the cathedral, searching for money and wanting to drink the wine made specifically to fund the cathedral. Eventually, after brutal attempts by the Japanese soldiers, who broke into the cathedral to rape the school girls–and after seeing the body of a dead girl he began to assume an important role as protector. If he wasn’t there, as a foreigner in wedged between the soldiers and women in this tragic situation, women in this film would not have lasted long if not for his presence.

Too much emphasis was placed on Bale’s presence in the film. Seeing as how he is a Hollywood star, I guess what comes along with it is the amount of screen time allotted specifically to him. This was the only annoying factor in this film. The story should have directly focused on the young school girls and women from the brothel by the river, led by Yu Mo (Ni Nis film debut), who took the place of the young girls who were supposed to be sent to a Japanese “party” to sing. The women dressed as the school girls and Miller, as a mortician, cut their hair to give them more youthful appearances. The women, while fearful of their own lives, were more concerned about the survival of the adolescent girls in the cathedral. Everyone knew what would happen to them and still decided to place themselves in harms way.

A beautifully tragic and triumphant film.

Christian Bale ("John Miller") stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment's The Flowers of War.

The entire story of The Flowers of War is one of courage, sacrifice, and honor during times of war.  Cinematographically, it is an intensely beautiful film. The character performances are amazing, and it is such an engaging tale that you almost miss that there is a small romance that goes on between Bale and Ni Ni’s characters. Still, the film should have focused more on the women’s story. There was so much more that could have been focused on in the film–a thorough relationship development between women and the school girls, which is the more powerful tale, and specifically how they keenly bonded went under appreciated. Bale’s role in the film should have been minimal.

Overall, a poignant tale of brave women, who are the real heroes in this story. Director Yimou again created a beautifully visceral film of an apocalyptic world.

A real tragedy in history.

The Flowers of War on Blu-ray™ is a courtesy from Lionsgate and is brilliantly displayed in its AVC/MPEG-4; 1080 HD encodement. The film aptly captured the beautiful tale vividly and masterfully colorful. The women’s clothing, lipstick were all vividly displayed. The darker areas in the cathedral were captured extremely well. The war effects were intensely engaging and brutal. The film maintained a near flawless appearance throughout. The audio quality engineered perfectly in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (in English and Mandarin). There was no overlapping of sound and the sound effects of the bombing, glass breaking and the shattering effects are extremely well rendered.

In addition, the Blu-ray™ special features includes:

  • Behind the scenes of The Flowers of War
  • The Birth of The Flowers of War
  • Meeting Christian Bale 
  • The New Born stars
  • Hard Time During War
  • Perfection of Light and Color
  • The trailer for the feature film
Feature run-time approx. 142 minutes. Title copyright © Beijing New Pictures Film Co., Ltd.

Source: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The Flowers of War
  • Editor Rating

  • Rated 4 stars
  • Excellent

  • The Flowers of War
  • Reviewed by:
  • Published on:
  • Last modified: 2013-01-02

Review Summary:

In 1937, Nanking stands at the forefront of a war between China and Japan. As the invading Japanese Imperial Army overruns China's capital city, desperate civilians seek refuge behind the nominally protective walls of a western cathedral.

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