Saturday, 6 December 2014
Flowers of War (5 Stars)
This was the second film that I watched in my Chinese film evening last night. It takes place in 1937, 12 years after "Legend of the Fist", and the situation in China has greatly deteriorated. It's a sadly underrated classic. It was only shown in a small number of cinemas in the UK and America, despite starring Christian Bale, who was one of Hollywood's biggest stars at the time after appearing in "The Dark Knight". I'm not sure what the problem was. Maybe the Anglo-American film studios didn't know what to make of it. It doesn't fit the pattern of the usual Chinese films shown in the West, i.e. martial arts epics. It's a dirty, gritty war film, which doesn't pull any punches in showing the horrors of war.
Maybe another problem is the Japanese lobby in the West. In the film the Japanese are portrayed as absolute monsters with no redeeming qualities. This was the reality of the 1937 "Rape of Nanking", as it is known today, but it's not something people like to talk about. After all, Japan is now a democratic ally of the West, whereas China is a single-party socialist state with a history of human rights violations. (The Chinese government doesn't like to be called Communist, but that's what it really is).
The film has also been criticised for focusing on the plight of the schoolgirls in the convent, rather than the war itself. This is deliberate, and for me it's what gives the film its character. It's a story of redemption and salvation. It's often said that war brings out the worst in people, but this film shows that it can also bring out the best. A godless undertaker can rise to selfless deeds of heroism. Vain prostitutes can give their lives to save others. The film is deeply moving, and several of us had moist eyes when the final credits rolled.