From internationally celebrated director Zhang Yimou ( Ju Dou, Raise The Red Lantern, Hero, House Of Flying Daggers ) comes a story of love and war. The dangerous streets of Nanjing throw together a group of opposites - a flock of shell-shocked schoolchildren, a dozen seductive courtesans, and a renegade American (Academy Awardr winner Christian Bale, The Fighter, The Dark Knight) posing as a priest to save his own skin, or so he thinks - all seeking safety behind a walled cathedral. Trapped by marauding soldiers, over the next few days the prejudices and divides between them will fall away as they unite around a last-ditch plan to protect the children from impending catastrophe.
Fans of Chinese-born director Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers) know how immersive his films are, how exquisitely, passionately of a place they are. His The Flowers of War is no exception, a deeply moving study of how ordinary people behave in extraordinary--and inhuman--circumstances. The Flowers of War is set during the Rape of Nanking, the epic 1937 battle of the Japanese invasion of China. The sense of place is immediate and raw, though most of the dialogue is in English. That bit of disbelief is easily suspended, however, as the depth of the performances carries the story easily. Christian Bale is an unlikely hero, an American mortician who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or is it the right time? As the battle intensifies, Bale's John Miller takes refuge inside a battered church, where a small group of terrified schoolgirls has been ushered by Chinese soldiers before reengaging in battle. (The Flowers of War is narrated by one of these young girls.) Suddenly a group of Nanking's infamous, glamorous prostitutes arrives at the church, also seeking sanctuary. Miller is torn, wanting only to leave, and knowing his white skin likely will grant him free passage out of the battle zone, but deciding to stay to help the young women. As a war film, The Flowers of War is not especially graphic, and yet it's gruesome and intense and drenched in sorrow. Death and cruelty and rape and torture are inflicted, as they always seem to be in wartime. And yet it's the tentative human connections made among Miller and the young women that prove to be a strong force--perhaps even capable of facing down a battalion. Bale is riveting in the role of Miller, a conflicted and imperfect hero. The lovely Chinese actress Ni Ni is also excellent, and heartbreaking, as Yu Mo, the steely prostitute who sees the world as it is, while wishing it might yet become what she hopes. The Flowers of War is an emotional, moving experience, and a must-see for any fans of war or historical dramas. --A.T. Hurley