In a single blinding moment I recognized the fragility of not just life, but the human experience itself…

flowers of war zhang yimou

War is where the young & stupid are tricked by the old & bitter into killing each other

Niko Bellic

Flowers of War  (2011)
Also known as
13 Flowers of Nanjing
Drama,    Historical,   War,  
Written by
Directed by
Christian Bale,   Ni Ni,   Zhang Xinyi,   Tong Dawei,   Atsuro Watabe,   Shigeo Kobayashi,   Cao Kefan
Country of Origin
Running time
146 minutes

oh! … flashback

In 1937, Japan invaded China which marked the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from 1937 to 1945). China fought Japan, with some economic help from Germany, the Soviet Union and the United States. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the war would merge into the greater conflict of World War II as a major front of what is broadly known as the Pacific War. One could call the Second Sino-Japanese War part of World War II.  The Nanking massacre was an episode of mass murder and mass rape committed by Japanese troops against the residents of Nanjing (spelt Nanking at the time), then the capital of the Republic of China. The massacre occurred over a period of six weeks starting on December 13, 1937, the day that the Japanese captured Nanjing. During this period, soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army murdered Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants who numbered an estimated 40,000 to over 300,000 and perpetrated widespread rape and looting.

oh! … brief

A group of escapees, finding sanctuary in a church compound, try to survive the plight and persecution brought on by the violent invasion of Nanking by the Japanese. The film follows the story of two groups of women escapees. The first group, young teenage convent students and George their protector (trapped in their city convent, a Western-run Roman Catholic church), and the second group, flamboyant prostitutes who force their way into the church (hiding out in the church basement, seeking refuge from the war outside).

An American mortician also becomes trapped in the church and reluctantly takes on the role of the priest to help save the lives of the students.

oh! … talks film

As can only be achieved by the master Zhang Yimou, this film captures a horrific period of time in China’s history in a beautiful and ethereal way. Master Zhang Yimou did an amazing job of choreographing scenes of war and fighting between enemies, alongside capturing the innocence of the young students and the brazenness of the prostitutes. The film was beautiful but tragic and shot so well. Truly magnificent footage! If nothing else this film deserves to be watched just because of how brilliant Zhang Yimou is in directing and cinematography!

Ordinarily, I would not have included a film that has so much spoken English on my list, but this one could not be overlooked. The screenplay itself was written by Liu Heng (a renowned Chinese realist writer) and is based on a novella written by Geling Yan (13Flowers of Nanjing) which was inspired by the heroic story and writings of Minnie Vautrin.  See now what I’m getting at? There is far more to this film than the general public knows, it has much more depth and story than one initially realises.

While the backstory is about the invasion of Nanking by Japanese troops and the horrors they committed during that invasion, it is also a story about the willing sacrifice of lives to protect the innocent and China.

The writing of the screenplay was masterful. The story, loosely based on truth (Minnie Vautrin’s recollections), reminds me of my history lessons as a teen. My old history teacher, Mrs Ridley, would have enjoyed this film. She and I shared a love for Asian history, particularly Asia-Pacific. As I haven’t read any of Geling Yan’s writings, I’m not certain if her novella was entirely fiction, non-fiction, or a combination of both. I do know that the writing of the screenplay and narration were exceptional, especially given the fact that an English-speaking main character is involved. Liu Heng did an outstanding job and I’ll have to look at some of his other works to see if anything else can be added to the list.

Of course, no production of this magnitude would be complete without good actors or actresses to bring the characters to life. The cast was well-chosen!

I must admit, I was sceptical about Christian Bale, he tends to either hit-or-miss with the films he chooses. His acting was only okay for me in this production. Maybe there was some feeling of discomfort on his side because I felt he just didn’t entirely get ‘into’ his role, not until the very end. His performance was nothing spectacular or anything he’d win an award for (I’m crossing fingers he didn’t win an award for this because then I’ll come across as a complete idiot!).

Ni Ni who debuted in this film as the adult female lead, Yu Mo, the reluctant leader of the group of prostitutes. She was noteworthy in this role and not only because she is such a beautiful woman, she also happens to act and speak English well! She was sultry, sexy and pulled off just the right amount of brazenness for an upper-class Nanking whore. And the swagger of her booty – woah!

Major Li, who sacrifices his life to distract the Japanese troops when they enter the church and who was essential to the opening scenes of this film was played by Tong Dawei. He was mesmerising and his performance brought me to the brink of tears at least two or three times. I was especially moved when he delivers the single shoe in the open doorway. Poignant and so sad! I was upset when he died but it was inevitable given my prior knowledge of the brutality of the Japanese forces, particularly in Nanking.

George, the protector of the girls and the orphan rescued by the original priest was played by Huang Tianyuan. What a great young actor! I really liked him in this role and I loved George, defender of the girls and the honour of the convent.

Zhang Xinyi played the teenage convent student lead, Shu. She inhabited her character and portrayed all the anger, guilt, resentment, and love that her character experienced. We lived every second of every horrific moment with her and her fellow cast-mates.

oh! … sidekick

Atsuro Watabe who played the despicable Colonel was my favourite sidekick out of all the choices I had and there were great sidekicks in this film (e.g. Yi, Ling, Mosquito, Mr Meng). I wanted to believe he would be a man of integrity, in the end, I was miserably disappointed. I liked how Atsuro was able to convince me by his performance that this Colonel was a gentleman, a man who would eventually see reason. However, the reality of war is that commands are followed, whether individuals agree with them or not, simply because they are commands from those higher up the chain.

oh! … that’s a wrap

I’m sure if you can find a number of hidden messages within the content of this film, but I’m not going to look for those this time. I may revisit this post in the future and update it. For now, I’m going to write that the art of Zhang Yimou’s productions, this one included is astounding. He can take even the most horrific of stories and create beauty within, it’s always an experience watching something he had directed and/or written too. I love this man and his masterpieces because he finds unique opportunities to choreograph scenes that take your breath away in every single one of his productions.

This particular film has a number of scenes that he captured in all their horror with incredible insight and beauty.  I once, many years ago, stumbled across some National Geographic photos of the war in Rwanda, a horrific and brutal slaughtering of thousands and thousands of people. A particularly gruesome photo captured my attention, not because of the brutality of the scene, but because of the beauty that the photographer has also captured in the midst of horror. Zhang Yimou gives that kind of beauty to this film. The gallery I created for this review is a very small capturing of some of the epic scenes you can see.

You’ll enjoy this film if like me you are a Zhang Yimou fan or a fan of historical pieces.

oh! … tidbits

Ni Ni won two awards for her role in Flowers of War, both in 2012. Her first award was the Asian Film Award for Best Newcomer and the second was the Shanghai Film Critics Circle Award for Best actress.

This film was selected as the Chinese entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards, but, did not make the final shortlist.

This film also received a nomination for the 69th Golden Globe Awards.

The 6th Asian Film Awards presented  The Flowers of War with several individual nominations, including Best Film.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery


oh! … trailers


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