Flowers of War, The

Original Title: 金陵十三钗
Release date: December 16, 2011
Director: Zhang Yimou
Novel by: Geling Yan
Screenplay by: Heng Liu
Cast: Ni Ni, Xinyi Zhang, Christian Bale, Tong Dawei, Atsuro Watabe, Paul Schneider

Would you believe me if I told you Christian Bale would be the weakest part of a movie?

While many film critics have panned Zhang Yimou’s take on the horrific Nanjing Massacre, labeling The Flowers of War as a mere propaganda film [1], what is hurting the film the most is its attempt to try to appeal to the common I don’t read subtitles moviegoer, making them think they’re going in to see Christian Bale save these poor Chinese women, when in fact it is these Chinese women who are the real heroes.

The film begins when Shu (X. Zhang) is running away with her classmates in an already devastated Nanjing, the cityscape destroyed by the bombings, bodies scattered everywhere. It is then that Shu and her surviving friends meet John (Bale), an American mortician who’s come to the city to prepare the body of the residing priest, who happens to be where the girls had been studying before the war.

Looking for the money he was promised, some booze and a comfortable place to stay, John sticks around long enough to see a group of prostitutes entering the church for protection where they know Japanese soldiers won’t cross the line. One of them is Yu Mo (Ni Ni), the leader of the pack.

Obviously, Zhang Yimou’s take on the Nanjing Massacre is completely different to Lu Chuan’s 2009 City of Life and Death. Whereas City was brutal, raw and hard to swallow, Zhang Yimou does something that’s making a lot of people uncomfortable. He’s showing us some brutal images of war in contrast to some of the most beautiful cinematography, a concept seen in the film’s title, and main characters.

The Flowers of War does come to life when “the flowers” show up in bold-colored dresses all made up, almost all with uplifted spirits thinking they’ve found refuge in this church. One of the most powerful scenes in the film comes when the delicateness of these “flowers” is overlaid with the most difficult decision they all have to make and the beautiful piece of the Qin Huai Legend [Xiami] with the pipa [1].

But nobody — as in, people outside film aficionados and critics — would have paid any attention to The Flowers of War, even if it was directed by Zhang Yimou, if they didn’t bill Christian Bale as the lead. The star-struck duds at the Golden Globes fell for it, as they never nominated City of Life and Death when it did its foreign festival rounds a couple of years back, and critics loved that film.

Christian Bale is a tool in the film. He’s a marketing tool to make the film get more notice outside China, and the changes in his characters were unnecessary to make the film more appealing for the masses — for example, those ten seconds of a sex scene between John and Yu Mo were contrived and pretty useless.

However, how many of us would check out this film or be aware of its existence if The Flowers of War starred a bunch of unknown women [1] as the title characters instead of Hollywood superstar Christian Bale?

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

amy

YAM Magazine editor, photographer, blogger, translator and part-time web designer. Film junkie, music junkie… and lately series (a.k.a. TV) junkie.

21 Responses

  1. Castor says:

    Interesting insight into the movie Amy. Surprising that Christian Bale doesn’t get to do much when it appears from the trailer that he is playing the central figure of the movie. I might check it out when it’s released on DVD in the States.

    • amy says:

      @Castor, he could have been anyone, really. I didn’t think it was a war movie, besides being set in the war and having that starting sequence – the film turns around for the drama set in the war.

      If you want to see more of what was going on in Nanjing at the time, I do recommend City of Life and Death – there’s a US release already so it should be on Netflix. There was a list of 10 films about Nanjing to watch, but the actual topic hasn’t been touch in such a scope and with such availability. With a budget of $90M USD, you can’t hardly blame them for trying to market the film as a kind of blockbuster.

  2. Yue says:

    Zhang Yimou has been something of a disappointment for a while now- many people have pointed out that his career has been full of pandering to western tastes for “exotic” films that don’t reflect the reality of China, while in recent years he’s also a bit of a sellout to the PRC government (not that it’s really fair for anyone outside the mainland to be making that particular criticism, but it’s possible to be patriotic without going so far as designing the Olympic ceremonies- I’d say the same of an American or Brit who designed the Olympic ceremonies for these countries, btw- I’d lose a bit of respect, if the governments were currently involved in shady activities and using the Olympics to cover for them- as Britain for instance, surely will be come summer 2012- doesn’t mean I didn’t adore Zhang’s ceremonies or hope China won lots of medals).

    Yes, I loved Hero and House of Flying Daggers in terms of style, but if you could find any meaning to them, it was a justification of central authority, something that has been criticized by other filmmakers like Jia Zhangke, who works with the government- and even makes films funded by Chinese commercial entities like theme parks, fashion houses, and housing developments- but doesn’t make films that become MERELY propaganda for anything, unlike Zhang, who seems to thrive in that particular role. For instance, watching Jia’s film 24 City is a total head-fuck in the same way as listening to a great hip hop track- the fact Jia was once a break-dancer is relevant, I think. The idea of “sellout” never enters into his work- he manages to go mainstream in his own way, appropriating whatever he needs from wherever he needs it, to say the necessary truths, which he hides in layers of artifice. The World and Useless were much the same- all of these movies were “compromised” by being, technically, propaganda or even sheer advertising for various commercial entities- and with I Wish I Knew, his film about Shanghai, he took it even further in making a film to promote an official government project- the Shanghai Expo- but shit man, if you watch these things, they . In contrast, Zhang sets out to express a particular political point- whether that’s pro-government as in his recent work or anti-government as in To Live- and does so with a lot of technical expertise, but

    True artists living under censorship (and we all live under it- whether market censorship or government censorship) have the ability to make complex art out of their own commercial compromises. Zhang is too self-serious for that- instead of playfully evading censorship and turning it back on itself like Jia, he just sticks as close as possible to the party line now, just as he once seemed to make films to please European festival audiences. Jia does that of course, but it’s not his first concern- 24 City received a positive but somewhat mixed reception in western festivals, for instance, with some criticizing its connections to commerce, but was widely embraced in China, where the bittersweet nature of the truths in it was understood. So anyway, I’m just continuing that pointless Jia/Zhang feud from back in 2006 when they released movies on the same day. Only because it’s terrible that, while Jia is extremely famous and revered among cinephiles worldwide, to the same extent Bergman and Tarkovsky once were, unlike those filmmakers, your average filmgoer in the US is extremely unlikely to have ever seen ANY of his work, or even heard his name. Before lamenting that a Zhang film needs Christian Bale to get attention, I would lament that there’s basically no way for a Jia film to get attention in the mainstream… even most film critics working for major newspapers couldn’t care less, since Jia has never had any of his work released in a commercial theatre outside NYC and LA. There’s such a divide especially this past decade between “foreign movies” that are relevant and foreign movies that get seen. But anyway… Zhang was once relevant, when China was on the verge of a market economy and he helped pave the way for new forms of expression with his period pieces. It’s just his days of making classics with Gong Li are over, and sadly his best work ever- the cinematography on his old friend Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth, which revolutionized Chinese cinema in 1984- has never even been available on DVD in the US. Check YouTube for that one. Amazing movie- propaganda yes, but also amazing- most movies are propaganda, certainly Hollywood is, so that’s not my issue. But the last time one of Zhang’s own films (or Chen’s for that matter) moved me at all was like 8 years ago. And the last truly great one on levels beyond just visuals, was probably Not One Less, from 1999. A lot of critics even say he hasn’t done anything brilliant since 1994’s To Live. Shanghai Triad was close to a masterpiece but even that had a couple of flaws… maybe.

    Point is, there are a lot of Chinese directors- from Jia and the newer generation of digital indie filmmakers to even Feng Xiaogang on the commercial end of things- who can be more relied on in 2011 to deliver an interesting or exciting movie or a statement about the world we live in. Just because Flowers of War is the only Chinese movie released in 2011 that most non-Chinese Americans will have any chance of even being aware of unless they seek it out on the Internet, does not mean people who care about these things can’t also find and watch films like City of Life and Death or even, Let the Bullets Fly, or the stunning indie films you can see at Dgeneratefilms.com, many of which cannot be screened easily in China anymore with the latest crackdowns.

    Anyway, I guess for me the mere idea Zhang was even trying to make a film about a subject like Nanjing was a step in the right direction, since Zhang has become such an over-the-top filmmaker in service of some iffy ideas that at least in dealing with the WWII era it would be less iffy in its ideology- i.e. the fact Japan committed atrocities is indisputable unless you’re a fascist Japanese nut- rather than just a weak attempt to justify the current government by going back to swordplay from ancient times. WWII era worked for him with his debut directorial effort, Red Sorghum, after all, one of the most horrific films of Japanese brutality (remember the skin peeling…). WWII is usually a safe bet, both in America and China, for a time period where the adversaries can make even a terrible present day government look great by comparison, and add some sheen of patriotism even if people are depressed by the current reality. Not coincidentally, WWII is also useful for US-Chinese commercial relations, given that the countries- even the Communists and the US troops- enjoyed close relations at that time being unified against a common enemy. So that’s one reason this movie- and the Bale casting- is getting a lot of play.

    I have to say it doesn’t really surprise me if, having seen Flowers of War, people feel Zhang added a famous white face just to attract more viewers. That seems pretty much in keeping with what Zhang Yimou has become- someone who sees himself more as a spokesman for “China” as an idea, who isn’t afraid to compromise any artistic value in order to impart those statements. As far as his spokesman role, this film may turn out to be a good idea. Zhang is incapable of making an aesthetically terrible film- my guess is that his visuals will put Lu Chuan’s to shame, and let’s be honest, the violence in Lu Chuan’s film was already kind of aestheticized, in a Schindler’s List way- it wasn’t a brutally realistic and stark look at war, it still had this classy, arty, very cinematic look to it, which some people had problems with when dealing with such a horrifying topic, just as they do with Zhang’s work. The only difference is Lu is a mediocre visual artist when it comes to those things, whereas Zhang can truly create stunning imagery. And that may help get more attention for this moment of history, because as much as it has been dredged up again and again in academic circles, Nanjing remains relatively unknown among the masses of filmgoers in the west. Perhaps if a few Batman fans watch this film, it could have a positive effect in terms of education. Though I wonder personally what tack Zhang is taking with regard to Japanese aggression- Lu Chuan’s film was subsidized by the official film industry and initially promoted by the government, but once it came out there was widespread criticism of the sympathetic (i.e. humanized) treatment of an individual Japanese soldier who was central to the story, and the film was actually pulled (though not banned outright, I think) soon after its debut, with the press going quiet about a movie they had been hyping as this great patriotic statement up until then. That may be partly responsible for the low-key reception of the film worldwide- it wasn’t even released in the US until halfway through 2011, although it’s actually a 2009 film. Though hardly a rare situation, that would never happen if the film was being heavily promoted by the government. But instead, it fell into a gray area- neither an art film, since it’s clearly an attempt to make a grand statement, nor a statement fully approved by the government, which thought better once the public reaction to the Japanese character was out, it trickled into cinemas without any real muscle behind it. It was too inaccessible for mainstream audiences, and too wannabe epic for art audiences.

    I personally think that, besides being a pretty good film, the criticism of the Japanese character in Lu Chuan’s work is not merited because overall the film is certainly correct- even quite explicit- in showing and lamenting the brutality of the Japanese. On the other hand, I feel like it was also the first truly serious film on this event to achieve an international audience, and in that light, it does seem odd, or even unfortunate, that the story of the suffering of the Chinese people was told through the eyes of a Japanese soldier, however personally conflicted or even honorable he was. Schindler’s List, one could say, did the same thing in focusing on the Holocaust through the experience of a Nazi businessman, and it was a similar situation where you could excuse it only because in both cases the director’s ethnicity was the same as the victim group. But first off, that wasn’t actually the first film about the Holocaust to be widely seen around the world, just the most successful, and there had previously been a number of films focused on Jewish victims (i.e. The Diary of Anne Frank movie back in the ’50s, to name an early one) and secondly, Schindler’s was more of an ensemble piece, less centered on one character, even though Schindler gave it the title, Jews were represented in the cast as well, and a few were fleshed out as characters, not just empty victims to elicit sympathy. In contrast, while a number of, mostly low-budget and exploitative, films had been made about Nanjing, none of them were even released outside China until 2009, so City of Life and Death really was the first to expose the incident worldwide. Secondly, though City of Life and Death features an ensemble cast like Schindler’s, the Japanese soldier really is the sole moral center of the film, whereas the Chinese victims are generally less developed (John Rabe was also less developed- presented as somewhat of an ineffectual hero- which at least showed the film wasn’t pandering to European tastes). Ben Kingsley, who played a Jew who works with the Nazis in Schindler’s, has an analogue in the doctor/translator in City of Life and Death, but that character had less screen time. Also, Schindler’s had extended sequences from the point of view of Jews being detained in the camps, and their eventual fate. City of Life and Death lacks that kind of perspective, from Chinese who had been living in Nanjing, thrusting us immediately into the battle/massacre with no context except that of the Japanese soldier.

    In any case, the reception to Lu’s film was interesting because while on the one hand, the PRC government loves to get behind popular displays of anti-Japanese feeling as a way of shoring up its legitimacy, on the other hand, the PRC and Japan enjoy rather close trade relations and do not actually want to jeopardize this with anything that goes beyond ribbing or denouncing Japan, into genuinely inflammatory statements with the potential to upset the countries’ current relationship (more than those boat incidents, say). So while the PRC doesn’t want a film that presents a Japanese character in a positive light when talking about one of the greatest massacres in the 20th century which happened to be carried out by Japanese against Chinese, they also don’t want a film that goes so far as to implicate Japanese culture as a whole and the current country of Japan for the massacre, to the extent of hurting trade. For that reason I wonder very much what kind of Nanjing film the PRC authorities will have wanted in 2011, because sadly I can be pretty sure whatever it was they wanted, Zhang Yimou could be counted on to deliver exactly the right line. So for me it would be as interesting to watch to get an idea of the official line on the massacre now, and how it has shifted in response to Lu Chuan’s depiction and the reaction to that. The film is of course, also based on a book by the same author behind Xiu Xiu The Sent Down Girl- a banned book and film- which adds some more layers of interest.

    Giving Zhang the benefit of the doubt though, as he is, in the end, still an interesting filmmaker in some ways, one thing that makes the Bale casting more than a stunt is that Bale starred in one of the few serious western films about this period of Chinese history, another Spielberg film, that being Empire of the Sun. It was the film that first made Bale famous as a child actor, back in 1987, and it also became the first Hollywood film since 1949 which was allowed to be shot in mainland China (The Last Emperor was made in the same year, but it wasn’t exactly a Hollywood film, being funded by European sources and directed by an Italian with a history of Communist sympathies). Empire of the Sun was based on the novel (really more of a loose memoir) by J.G. Ballard, who grew up in Shanghai during the Sino-Japanese War, and whose privileged existence was destroyed by the Japanese occupation, which also allowed him to see the suffering of the majority of the Chinese people and become disillusioned about the righteousness of war, empire, technology and such. People who are familiar with Ballard’s works (like Crash, which was adapted into the sexually explicit David Cronenberg film from 1996, which was actually much more tame than the book) have noted that much of his prophetic ideas about late 20th century life (ideas which have influenced everyone from Radiohead to Chuck Palahniuk) date from the extremes of his childhood depicted in Empire of the Sun- though on the surface the book is about one short period in the 20th century, it is viewed in hindsight in a way that lets you see that what happened in occupied Shanghai in the ’30s and ’40s played out elsewhere throughout the rest of the century- the horrors, the inequalities, the contrasts of opulence, consumerism, war, violence and sexual exploitation. The book is on the surface just a memoir, but, probably because he wrote it 40 years after the fact, it has these levels of meaning that make it a masterpiece which should really be assigned reading in all US and UK schools, but isn’t because it’s too critical of western, as well as Japanese, imperialism, and also, well, because the author wrote Crash, which no one concerned about political correctness would let anywhere near a school (seriously- nothing can prepare you for that book). The movie is not on the same level, but it’s still one of Spielberg’s best works easily, one where his idealization of childhood is not at odds with the material but serves to bring out different meanings.

    It’s of course worth noting that Empire of the Sun- even the book, and certainly Spielberg’s less complex film- is unabashedly from a western, colonial perspective, to the extent that events like Nanjing don’t even really register in it. The young boy, Jim, was living in the bubble of the western “concession” (colonial district) of Shanghai until 1941 when Japan invaded Pearl Harbor and subsequently moved on all the British outposts in Asia- the previous invasion of Shanghai (apart from the concession) and Nanjing in 1937 occurred during his wistful boyhood in which, as a way of rebelling against his parents and the British Empire, he actually idealized the Japanese military, and certainly had no idea of the lives of the average Chinese. Rather than being a flaw of the book, this is part of what makes it so powerful, as you see the layers of falsity stripped away and Jim realizes what life is actually like beyond the unconscionably privileged circles of western elites in Shanghai.

    Anyway, just wanted to say I like the idea of the adult Bale- however useless he is to the actual film- appearing briefly in a film about Nanjing, which was inconsequential to the plot, yet deeply important at an unspoken level, to Empire of the Sun. Having made that film in China as a kid, I’d be interested if only for that reason to see how Bale’s current character resonates in that environment (though, if it involves having lots of sex with hot Chinese women, as much as I’d love to be in his situation, I can’t quite picture that in a film trying to work up outrage about the Rape of Nanking…)

  3. Yue says:

    (sorry for a couple sentences I didn’t finish btw, and general incoherence- totally insomniac rambling from me there- I wish I had the discipline to write for you guys)

    • amy says:

      @Yue, I gotta agree with you on the Zhang Yimou thoughts, though. I haven’t been actually blown away by his work since Raise the Red Lantern (haven’t yet watched To Live), – I didn’t mind Not One Less or even The Curse of the Golden Flower (I’m just stunned by all that gold), but I really didn’t fully feel it for Hero and House of Flying Daggers, which is weird because those are the two most talked about films by US film bloggers in general.

      I did love the summer olympics opening ceremony though. Like… LOVE it.

      I think whatever people think of the values and ideas in Zhang’s movies is something that happens in all foreign directors – like Kim Ki-duk being more successful in Europe than he is in Korea. Maybe he likes it that way… – for Zhang, maybe he likes being the voice of the PRC, I don’t think I’m noone to tell him he shouldn’t be promoting whatever he feels like promoting

      I think the layers to the film, which you speak of like the Bale connection and the banning of other property by the same book author are really good points that add to the richness of the production. No, really. How long did it take you to write all of that? LOL and you say you don’t have the discipline xD You do, you should help us out~

      thank you for your comment, your insight and everything.

    • amy says:

      @Yue, btw – City of Life and Death, just as a film about Nanjing, I felt it was better. I actually didn’t just see it as a movie from the point of view of the Japanese guy. I think while watching it, I felt part Chinese civilian fighting (I was literally in tears in the beginning scene when they all shout in unison), I felt part civilian women in hiding. Just thinking about it all makes me stomach all funny… but that was the first movie that my family and i had gotten about the event.

      I thought in Flowers, casting Atsuro Watabe was interesting. To me his character in the film was… powerless. I didn’t think he meant to have all the people around him do all those things, but he just couldn’t do anything to stop it. A lot of critics said that the film was anti-Japanese and always quote the “we’ve found virgins” scene, which… yeah, it was a bit blunt, but I’m not going to pretend there aren’t such happenings in war zones. So it may be that the Japanese representation was too subtle for people, but I thought it was enough considering where the focus of the film was.

  4. Yue says:

    Amy, hey, thanks for reading. You wrote the first review I’d read of this movie. I don’t know when I’ll even have a chance to see it, and the truth is, I meant to comment on your site a long, long time ago, just didn’t end up finding an excuse to do it until yesterday. It didn’t take me long to write, don’t worry. If I’d taken more time it might’ve made more sense… or it might’ve made even less. :) I should’ve stuck to responding to what you were actually saying, which was plenty to talk about, instead of bringing up other filmmakers.

    You’re Chinese, right? See, I didn’t grow up there, and movies have always meant too much to me, as a connection to the culture. When something means a lot, I guess we tend to focus in sometimes on the small annoyances and differences, like a family argument. So I attacked Zhang, rather unfairly (more for how his movies hog the attention other filmmakers from China should get- which isn’t his fault) especially since I began by saying I didn’t think it was fair how others attacked him for different reasons than my own, lol. Having read your piece about propaganda, I get why this kind of criticism was especially intolerable to you and you wanted to defend Zhang, because to say “propaganda” is to basically say it’s not even worthy of discussion, it’s essentially sweeping historical events under the rug if they aren’t “our” (well, not really) side of the history, or even if they are “our” side, but just victims who were the wrong color of skin and too far back in time for “our” mainstream media to think we should care about in 2011/2. I mean, if Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List was also slammed for being propaganda (which they are, in many ways) this would be fair, but those films were rightly acclaimed for being great despite the messages they were conveying- even Xi Jinping, future president of China, loves Saving Private Ryan. So on that basis, it is unfair, perhaps racist, for the criticism of a film about Nanjing to take the tone it does. Even if the critics turn out to be “right” that this particular film sucks (not that I believe there is such a thing as an objective take on a film) they are absolutely bullshitting us in their reasoning, until they define propaganda clearly, in a neutral, non-ethnocentric way, and most of them wouldn’t dare, since it would include plenty of Hollywood classics of yesterday and today (many masterpieces among these- there’s no reason propaganda, even in the most obvious examples, can’t be great cinema- my personal favorite is Soy Cuba, by the Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov).

    You know what, though, I also loved Zhang’s work on the Olympics, I don’t know anyone whatever their politics who didn’t. I even adored the visuals in Hero and even more so, House of Flying Daggers, despite what some of my friends and a lot of the critics I respect said against that movie. To me it was basically perfect despite the apparent superficiality of it all… it didn’t need to be truly emotional like Crouching Tiger, it was more physically breathtaking than anything Ang Lee could ever come up with. It was what I wish Hollywood action films were like- it was what I wish John Woo and Tsui Hark films were still like (yes, I loved Red Cliff, but it was so ponderous, it was a great epic historical drama- with a great message, besides- but I do miss Hard Boiled…). There aren’t many films where the style is so incredible I don’t give a shit about substance, but House of Flying Daggers was one of them. But Raise the Red Lantern, man, that’s got to be the first Chinese film I ever saw, and of course I didn’t get it at all, being about eight years old, but I eventually saw it a few more times, and it still means a lot to me. Besides that, I adore pretty much everything he did with Gong Li- Ju Dou especially- and yeah, try to watch To Live sometime, it’s not my personal favorite, but in some ways it is one of his most powerful. I forgot that Zhang had actually been banned from filmmaking for two years for making that one, which was based on a novel (by Yu Hua, I think) on the experience of one ordinary family in the Great Leap Forward. It was a brave film to make, certainly not propaganda by any definition of that word- a patriotic film in its own way, but only through honestly looking at the past in a way that went way beyond what the censors were comfortable with.

    Thinking back, I realize just how many films with his fingerprints on them have affected me in some way, and I have to say whatever my issues with Zhang Yimou, I’m still a fan, and I just try to keep my expectations kinda low so I’m not disappointed by his new stuff. I had to stick up randomly for Jia though, because Zhang films may get unfairly criticized, but at least they get released in the west. I only wish some other filmmakers would get the kind of attention from the mainstream media outside China that Zhang gets. Even Wong Kar-wai never received quite that level of attention, and he actually made a Hollywood movie! I think it’s sad, and somewhat scary, that non-Chinese people, unless they really seek out art films, don’t get to see films of how modern Chinese people actually live, just historical and martial arts epics. If I was ever in a room with someone who started attacking Zhang for making propaganda movies, or even for “selling out” by doing the Olympics, I’d kick his ass, because most likely that motherfucker attacking Zhang also loves a lot of Hollywood propaganda films which he would never realize were propaganda. You’re absolutely right that we have no right to criticize an artist for his personal choices particularly with regard to politics. Even Jia himself is compromised in that regard, as is everyone who’s still alive. I guess it’s just with Zhang, as strong as his aesthetics are, I miss the emotion, the human focus of his old films, and hopefully that will be back with this one.

    Have you read The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang? That got to me even more than that film City of Life and Death, somehow, though it was the movie that made me read it in the first place. Just seeing it in words was much harsher, somehow. Some of the statistics in that book have been the subject of controversy, because Chang didn’t use any of the Japanese sources available (she couldn’t read Japanese and she didn’t go to Japan in the course of her research) and made a few generalizations about Japanese society of the time, but she was still correct in all the information presented. She committed suicide several years after writing it, in a state of paranoia because she thought the Japanese right wing AND US government were after her. I dunno if that was true, or if it was something she imagined, but it’s not hard to believe. Her book may have angered the US government, surprisingly enough, despite the fact it reflects so poorly on the WWII-era enemy of the US, because in the course of occupying Japan and trying to turn it into a “democracy” (i.e. one-party LDP dictatorship) the US was happy to allow many fascist Japanese to stay in the government, not really wanting to deal with the full extent of war crimes, since after all the fascists were against communism, which was all the US cared about at that time. So the Japanese LDP politicians continued to visit Yasukuni Shrine, etc. Chang was exposing some of the horrifying background of the modern rulers of Japan, and maybe she went too far in the eyes of both Japanese extremists and the US government (not to say they killed her- I dunno if anyone suggests that- but I could believe they might have threatened her not to dig too deep- she said she was being followed and shadowed in her final days). Anyway, I recommend her book, it seems like easy reading at first, the style is very accessible, but it is really really hard to deal with some of the meticulous details of 1937 when you see it all together. I can see how she might have despaired after immersing herself in that kind of research into cruelties for years, and feeling few people in the surrounding US society really cared either way about this history. She was only 29 when she wrote the book, so she was quite young when she died too, just a few years later. Looking at the beautiful picture of the author on the back of the book, it’s almost like a portrait of a final victim of the massacre.

    I kind of feel after that experience of reading her book, maybe I should seek out the novel by Yan Geling on which Flowers of War is based, instead of seeing this movie, because I am wondering how the events in Nanjing could possibly be portrayed on screen by anyone, no matter what their visual talents. Even though Lu Chuan’s film is very mature and lacking in sensationalism, I still don’t think it comes close to doing justice to what I read in Chang’s book, just for me anyway, and as much as I’m curious how Zhang’s cinematographic skill would handle such material, I kinda almost don’t want to know. Maybe it’s nearly impossible to do some subjects right in a movie. I haven’t read any of Yan Geling’s work yet, but she is also the writer of Tian Yu (aka Xiu Xiu), the book and also the script of Joan Chen’s film, which I’d also be interested to read, having liked that film, despite its controversy. I would also love to read some more of the “scar literature.” I guess a lot of things are still untranslated, and I don’t read more than a few words in Chinese thus far. I’m zhongguoren at heart but sadly, not by language.

    What I like about Yam- aside from making me hungry, as it reminds me of sweet potatoes (which happen to be the only food Bale’s character, Jim, was able to eat for his years in a Japanese camp in Empire of the Sun) is your openness to anything- you are fucking awesome for requiring any music reviewer to be into African music along with their pop and indie. Seriously, it’s hard enough finding people who can dance to both LCD Soundsystem and Fela, but how many Mandopop lovers are also into Congolese, Nigerian, Malian records? I wish! I am no kind of expert on African music, but I do love both Toumani Diabate- kora totally sounds like guzheng to me, anyway- and Faye Wong, among others. At the same time I love that despite the ambitions of being region free, you’re like an old fashioned zine in spirit, you guys aren’t trying to be Pitchfork, I like that more personal touch, how it looks like a magazine but it reads like a group of friends who basically know their shit, but don’t ever try to show off about it too much. Your graphic design is of course very professional and impressive, but there’s also a degree of humility and personal approach to your writing style here, which I’m really into, and I’d try to stick with, instead of going off on pretentious tangents!

    If I could help out by writing a few words on something you’re personally into, something you like the idea of Yam covering, but that you haven’t found the time to write about yourself, or you don’t feel able to write about personally, I’d really get off on that. Let me know what kind of subject you’re looking for Yam to cover, that you feel hasn’t been written about by anyone else here yet, and I’d love to help you out if I can. I’m into music, as we all are, but it’s not something I always know how to put into words, it’s so personal that sometimes I don’t like to put scores on things, I can write a proper review pretty easily, it’s just not my thing, I feel like it reduces what music is about sometimes into a mathematical equation. On the other hand, sometimes I can do it- depends on the music. I’m really comfortable writing about film though, and bringing my emotional reaction as well as some deeper analysis into it- without much film theory, since I’m not even aware of that. Just be warned, I can’t afford to see a lot of brand new releases in the cinema, and I don’t live somewhere where the ones I want to see are even screened (i.e. this Zhang film isn’t out where I live). So, most of what I’m into is a bit older, say, from 1900 to… early 2011. Stuff that’s out on DVD or Bluray or, umm, torrents and rapidshare, right. :P Actually, I am really into 1930s films from China, which are all legally in the public domain. I don’t know your tastes, but anyone who saw two films on Nanjing massacre must be tolerant of movies on times long past, so I’d be curious as to your thoughts on The Goddess, which is my favorite movie ever made. Ruan Lingyu, the best actress who ever lived, made it in 1934 and died the next year. Centre Stage, the film with Maggie Cheung, is about her life. I’d like to write something about Ruan, maybe. If Canto and Mando stars are worthy of love letters, Ruan is- her funeral in the ’30s was one of the biggest in history. Most have now forgotten her. Even Centre Stage, made just 20 years ago, is out of print. But I feel like what went on in Shanghai, in Nanjing, in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, it’s connected with what goes on today, especially this last year, in weird ways. I watch a film from 1935 and I feel like it could’ve been made in 2009. Scary. Anyway, perhaps not a good subject for a Yam article. I’d also like to talk about some recent awesome Chinese independent films more people need to see, or about Dirty Beaches, my favorite indie musician at the moment (he happens to be Taiwanese-born, and deeply influenced by Wong Kar-wai and other filmmakers I love, but he’s based in Canada). But, I’d actually be really happy to start out writing about something you’re familiar with and you want covered, and see where it goes from there. I mean, if you’re serious about this, I’d be honored to write for you guys.

    So, are you a mainlander yourself? You say on the jobs page you want more coverage of Chinese indie bands here. Me too- why the fuck are people who read about indie music not supposed to care about Chinese bands, unless we actually live in China? Especially since a number of the songs are in English anyway? It’s like Chinese underground films- there’s this weird lack of coverage. Unfortunately some of that shit is very difficult to even hear outside the PRC, and at the moment, I do not have a way (i.e. MONEY) of getting inside the PRC. Like, my favorite band from Shanghai, actually from China in general, is Duck Fight Goose, and they just put out a new album, actually their DEBUT album, Sports, last month, but I haven’t even heard it yet, just one song! I dunno how I would even buy it at this point- eventually their last release, the Flow EP, ended up on iTunes of all places, and it also got distribution from an Australian company from whom I ordered it, but this one is still hard to find. The fact that they’re already my favorite Chinese band from just having put out an EP should tell you a lot- the EP is fucking amazing, I dunno if you’re into music like Deerhoof, but it’s on that level, but a lot more fun. If you know anyone who has their actual album… I would love to hear it, or even review it… DFG might be about to blow up this year- they were invited to play SXSW this March. If any band is going to be embraced by people in the west who don’t usually follow Chinese indie, I could see it being them… imagine Yam in before SXSW with the first English language review directed at people who don’t live in Beijing or Shanghai. If I can find a digital copy of that album, I will review the shit out of it for you guys. I’ve watched the few seconds of live DFG I can find on Youku, and I do own albums (like, actual physical copies!) by LavaOxSea, the previous band of the lead singer, so I guess I’m as qualified as any waiguoren.

    I mean it’s just embarassing if you look at music review sites how little coverage they devote to China, to the point even Chinese kids living in the US could be unaware there was such a thing as guitar music coming out of the country, and I think DFG might end up helping to change that, IF people listened to them. It’s my hope, anyway.

    It’s disgusting how art gets divided up… why are “we,” the forcibly Americanized global masses, not supposed to care about Chinese punk bands or Filipino movies or African ANYTHING, especially when a lot of that stuff is in languages everyone knows, i.e. English, and when it has a fuck of a lot more to do with our lives than most of what’s coming out of Hollywood. I dunno. I don’t have the answers, except I guess, cash rules everything around us. But whatever, you guys are cool, and you have my email, right, just from my posting here, so let me know if there’s any way I can help you.

  5. Jennie says:

    Would like to know when the movie will be played in San Jose or Santa Clara?

    Thanks

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