Rental Pick: The Flowers of War (2011)

Ruth’s note: Thanks to FC’s contributor Cecilia Rusli for this review. This film is now available on DVD/Blu-ray. View more information on the production of this movie as well as the trailer.

It’s been a long time since I’ve last seen a Chinese movie at the cinema as I am getting less interested to see their martial arts movies all over again. When The Flowers of War played at the local cinemas in Indonesia, I heard good reviews about it and yes the fact that Christian Bale is one of the cast pretty much made me curious. This film tells the story of an American, John Miller (Christian Bale) who has to stay with school girls and prostitutes during attack and rape by Japanese army at Nanking in 1937.
The film with a combination of war, Asian army, and an American leading role that I remember pretty strong is The Last Samurai where I found the Japanese Ken Watanabe did a very good job with Tom Cruise. Now at The Flowers of War, Christian Bale succeeded in building a good emotion with the Chinese cast which consist of prostitutes and the students he met at the church. The conflict happens from the beginning of the film created a strong bond between the characters on the movie.
Watching The Flowers of War leaves me with mixed up emotions. I laughed at some of the hilarious scenes, and also weep a couple of times at the heartbreaking scenes. Director Zhang Yimou created these sadistic and heartless Japanese army very well that it was painful to see. Brutal and bloody actions have officially made this film not recommended for kids. Regardless of some of the silly and cheesy drama scenes, all that I felt is this emotional built up that starts from the very beginning all the way until the end of the movie as it’s wrapped beautifully. It’s not just strong at the dramatic part, I also enjoyed the war tactics with explosions and shotguns at the beginning of the movie.

Christian Bale managed to give the audience different perspective and emotions on his character throughout the film. The script surely supports it. Moreover, Bale shows that he could be paired perfectly with the Chinese actress Ni Ni for the romantic scenes and also with Tianyuan Huang for some hilarious conversations.

Paul Schneider who plays the role as John’s friend Terry did not really have much screen time in the movie. The character is plainly ordinary and he is just supporting Miller’s character as an American.

Personally I feel that The Flowers of War is worthy to be selected as China’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 84th Academy Awards 2012. It is a pretty brave film as it contains some controversies between Japanese, Chinese, and American but managed to bring a strong dramatic movie for the audience. Don’t watch it when you’re in a gloomy mood though, as this film will make you even more depressed.
– review by Cecilia Rusli
3 out of 5 reels

Has any of you seen this film? What do you think?

29 thoughts on “Rental Pick: The Flowers of War (2011)

  1. Fine review, Cecilia. I agree with much of your assessment, and its ending is where the film’s real power culminates (and makes up for some of its oddities). Now, I’d like to ask you the same question I ask those who’ve seen this film regarding a scene I think is open to interpretation, but since not everyone reading this has seen it, I’m hesitant to leave it here as a comment for fear of spoiling it for them. Perhaps, you or Ruth can suggest another avenue? Twitter, maybe. Thanks.

    1. I haven’t seen this yet Michael, so I really appreciate your courtesy of not spoiling it for me and those who haven’t seen it 🙂 I’ll ask Cecilia to DM you about it.

  2. FUNK

    I haven’t seen this film yet, but did watch Chuan Lu’s 2009 film City of Life and Death. Filmed in Black and White, some good street fighting scenes at the start, and then the horror starts.

      1. FUNK

        Yes it most certainly is, it took me 2 viewings to get through it, it’s like you mentioned above don’t watch it on a rainy day, though no matter what type day it is, it will still get to you.

        1. Oh I know, the subject matter is certainly VERY depressing. My late grandma told me a lot of horror stories when Japan occupied Indonesia for 3.5 yrs, even in that short span it was traumatizing-ly brutal and downright sadistic. I will think of her when I watch this, so it will likely have quite an effect on me.

  3. Thanks, I will check this one out. Had not heard of it yet.

    Have you seen “John Rabe” (2009)? It’s also about the Nanjing Massacre with Daniel Bruhl and Steve Buscemi. John Rabe is the guy who saved over 200,000 people. A German-Chinese production. However it was filmed in an English language version too, AFAIK. I do know the director already won an Oscar with a short film as a student a few years before.

    It’s good because it is very complex in how it portrays him. Not only as a hero. I don’t want to give anything away…

  4. I’ve not see it yet either – which is weird because I did a post on it before it was released. Then I bought the DVD in New York’s Chinatown in late March – brought it home to Florida – and 3 1/2 months have passed and I still haven’t reviewed it.

    But aybe if I move it on to the top of the desk – where it is in plain sight – then I’ll get to it.

    1. Hi Mike! Ha..ha.. that happens, I have a couple of dvds that’s been sitting there on the shelf for months, even a year has passed and I still haven’t watched it, not sure why. I want to see it though, hopefully before The Dark Knight Rises opens.

  5. While martial art movies is what China(and i think Asia in general) has become known for, there is plenty of good chinese movies not about that. Anyways, i will probably give this a watch at some point

    1. There certainly are Julian, in fact, In the Mood For Love is one of those Chinese dramas I’ve been wanting to see. Nothing to do w/ martial arts at all.

    2. Ted S.

      That’s pretty much true, I was born and spent most of my childhood in the Far East so action/martial art films are quite popular. But as I’ve gotten older, I sort of lost interest in those kind of films. That’s why I found it funny when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out and people here were awed by it. Even though the film was good, I’ve seen those type of movies so many times, I wasn’t that impress by it.

      Now the only type of films I seek from that part of world are non martial arts or action genre. I mean Infernal Affairs was great and it hardly have any action in it, in fact the American remake, The Departed, has more violence than that one.

  6. Ted S.

    I’ll give this a rent someday, I’m just not in the mood to watch any war film lately. I’ve never seen any of the director’s work but I know he’s well respected.

  7. Good review, Cecilia. This film kind of came out of nowhere. I didn’t know anything about it until I saw it popping up in DVD release posts this week. Sounds like it could be a solid rental.

  8. ceciliarusli

    Hi Michael! Yes we possibly discuss it through DM or emails so we won’t spoil everyone here. I’ll DM you my email.

    Thanks for posting this Ruth! Now i am curious about your grandma’s story. People are also saying that the 3.5 years Japan occupied indonesia is even more sadistic than 350 years Netherlands did.

    Tim you need to figure out about the flowers by watching it 😀 thank you for the compliment!

    1. Hi Cecilia, thanks again for your review! You have Michael’s Twitter right? Yes please DM him.

      “The 3.5 years Japan occupied indonesia is even more sadistic than 350 years Netherlands did.” YES that’s what my grandma said to me, it was barbaric she said, she even told me a story where she actually saved one wounded Japanese soldier out of compassion even though she hated them for what they did, but when it’s just one on one, of course our humanity won out and she ended up helping him. I wish I had written her stories in a journal when I had the chance!

  9. ceciliarusli

    Yes! It’s also a rare thing here that it’s playing at the cinemas while summer movies invasion is coming. Thank you Eric!

  10. The film sounds interesting but for some reason I’m in no rush to see it, even if it has Bale. I’ll probably check it out eventually, though. Great review!

    1. Hi Sati, I think the subject matter of Flowers of War might not appeal to many people, but I’m still curious because of the filmmaker and Bale’s casting.

  11. What??? you see this before me!! not fair 😉

    I can’t read your review yet because I really want to see it but quite surprise you only gave it 3 stars…now I am more intrigued. Will get back to your review again once I have seen it 🙂

    1. This is my friend Cecilia’s review, Nov, I haven’t seen it either. I might rent it next weekend, maybe after watching The Dark Knight Rises 🙂

  12. The Flowers of War (2011) is one of those should I watch or shouldn’t I? I like how visually interesting the director’s work is, and Bale is a good actor, but have been reading mixed reviews on rottentomatoes, so not at the top of my watch-list.

    1. I think it’s worth a watch from what I’ve been reading so far. I’m certainly gonna see this one as I’ve been impressed by Zimou’s work in the past and of course Bale’s.

  13. nice review, Cecilia.
    I still haven’t seen the film, but I’d like to. I almost never miss watching Asian films when I have a chance to. I’m not a huge fan of Bale, but I love watching historical films which deal with disturbing parts of history especially if they are done using truth.

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