I had heard that Flowers of War, the war movie based on the fall of Nanking, was less than entertaining when it was showing on the big screen. As a result, I gave it a miss. When it arrived in my pile of DVDs to review, I left it till last, thinking it was going to be pretty bad. I reluctantly popped it into my DVD player today, but contrary to what I’d heard, by the end of the movie I was pleasantly surprised.
Flowers of War is a war film set during the take over of Nanking by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1937. As the city falls, people flee or hide from the invading Japanese army. A group of Chinese Catholic students are on their way back to the convent where they live when the invasion begins. The students get split up during the confusion. An American man (Christian Bale) finds two of the students and leads them back to their home, where he pretends to be the priest in order to protect them from the marauding Japanese soldiers.
Flowers of War will appeal to fans of war movies, as well as viewers who like their drama on the intense side.
The Bottom Line
Flowers of War is directed by Yimou Zhang, the director who brought you Hero. Despite the change in setting, Zhang still manages to squeeze in some spectacular set pieces. Whether it’s the remnants of a Chinese squad taking on pillaging Japanese soldiers, or one Chinese soldier’s last defiant stand against the invaders, the movie finds the time to throw in some pretty cool action. Unfortunately these scenes do seem a bit out of place, since they might lead the viewer into thinking this movie is something along the lines of Saving Private Ryan, which it isn’t. After a fairly action packed opening act, the movie switches to a far more character driven story.
Excluding Christian Bale, you probably won’t recognise most of the actors, but this doesn’t mean the performances aren’t good. All the main characters are incredibly well cast and bring great performances to this movie.
Unfortunately this is necessary since this movie suffers from melodrama overload towards the end. Each of the actor’s performances are good and believable, but Zhang puts way too many heavy scenes into the end of this movie. Once you know the fate that awaits the characters in the final act, Zhang lays on heavy emotional scene after heavy emotional scene, leaving you well worn out and also thinking “is it over yet?”
The movie also has a bit of unnecessary brutality, with Zhang very clearly painting the Japanese as almost unforgivably evil. Considering this movie is based on a true events, it would have been a little bit better to see a more balanced view, similar to what Eastwood did in Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of our Fathers.
Flowers of War is a emotionally packed movie that is almost overbearing in places, but it’s definitely a worthwhile watch, particularly if you enjoy more character driven war movies.
About the writer
Rowan Govender, a writer and artist who is more commonly known by his pen name Rowango, graduated from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal with an Honors degree in Media in 2006. He relocated to Cape Town in 2007 to pursue his interest in writing and film. He is currently employed part time in the Technical Writing industry, while he pursues personal creative projects.