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 , 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 .
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  as the title characters instead of Hollywood superstar Christian Bale?