The Flowers of War Zhang Yimou

The Flowers of War Zhang Yimou
Every once in a while, Christian Bale gives a transparently "method" performance. His voice varies in volume, he stutters now and again, his dialogue is interrupted by uncomfortable laughter and maybe he'll include some nervous tics for good measure. This style of acting isn't necessarily bad, (it's rather effective when matched with David O. Russell's hand-in-pocket direction of The Fighter), but Bale's mannerisms clash uncomfortably with the rest of Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War, a staid Pacific War melodrama about refugees holed up in a Nanking cathedral. There are other awkward juxtapositions in the film as well: the bare sketches of a culture-clash comedy (prostitutes in a cathedral!) don't really fit in with Zhang's apocalyptic vision of an occupied Nanking. Bale plays John Miller, an alcoholic, American mortician recruited to bury the cathedral's German priest. His arrival in Nanking is ill timed, coinciding with the arrival of the Japanese army, whom, as we know from history, commit numerous atrocities, including the murder and rape of women and children. Also inhabiting the church are several young girls from the convent, as well as a bevy of prostitutes from the local brothel. The church is theoretically a neutral zone, a place where civilians can find refuge, but, as we've established, the Japanese weren't following the Geneva Conventions too closely during that particular occupation, and a church full of prostitutes and virgins isn't likely to last during the invasion. Oddly, the unfocused first half, in which all the characters find their way to the church, amplifies the confusion and anarchy of war with its inconsistent style. It may be a mess, but Zhang is a brilliant visual composer, so at least it's a glorious mess. The battle scenes are full of ambition, including Zhang's admirable attempt to tame the frantically shot, post-Saving Private Ryan war scenes of the past decade with a sense of composition. But the film, already treading on thin ice, falls off a cliff in the second half, as the story turns to John Miller's redemption, and the alcoholic mortician becomes a white saviour for the Chinese victims of the massacre (and Hollywood star Christian Bale becomes an international marketing focal point for the film). The movie comes in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo. The special features are mostly behind-the-scenes featurettes, including a profile on Bale, but more interesting is the mini-doc that details the open casting call done for the convent students. The disc also includes a feature on the Nanking massacre and on the film's cinematography for tech nerds. (eOne)