THE FLOWERS OF WAR (eOne, 2011) Zhang Yimou, w/ Christian Bale, Ni Ni. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNNN Rating: NNN
Early in the extras, Flowers Of War director Zhang Yimou characterizes his movie as a very Chinese story told from an "international" perspective. I think he means "Hollywood," the approach that puts an American star front and centre in a historical story that has nothing to do with the U.S., then goes for shameless heartstring-tugging.
The story is the Rape of Nanking in 1937, six weeks of slaughter and rape that followed the Japanese capture of the city, then the Chinese capital. An estimated 300,000 people died.
The Hollywood star is Christian Bale, playing a drunk mortician left in charge of a cathedral full of pubescent schoolgirls and brothel workers. They must escape, but the place is surrounded.
Director Zhang ( Raise The Red Lantern, 2008 Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremony) makes the horrors of war visceral without being graphic and pulls off some masterful but not subtle emotional manipulation: the Japanese die like dogs, the Chinese to ethereal music.
Ni Ni, as the leader of the prostitutes, holds her own with Bale in key emotional scenes, and the rest of the mostly novice cast deliver good performances. But they came at the cost of exhaustion, boredom and the occasional meltdown, as the extensive making-of doc makes clear with impromptu interviews.
EXTRAS Five-part making-of doc. English and Mandarin audio. English subtitles.