x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

While the plot of The Flowers of War falters, the skilful filmmaking doesn't

The skill that has gone into the film is unquestionable. Given the growth in Chinese cinema, Christian Bale is unlikely to be the last Hollywood star heading East.

Christian Bale in The Flowers of War.
Christian Bale in The Flowers of War.

The Flowers of War
Director: Zhang Yimou
Starring: Christian Bale, Ni Ni
**

Despite the incredibly aesthetic offerings on display throughout the most expensive production in Chinese history and one heralded as a new dawn in Sino-Hollywood filmmaking history, there are a few points in The Flowers of War, Zhang Yimou's visually stunning war epic about an American who comes to the aid of a group of schoolgirls during the Rape of Nanjing in 1937, where you're likely to loudly question the actions of those on screen.

What is Bale's character, the American drifter John Miller, doing in a place currently in the midst of a bloody massacre? How do a group of business ladies, under his de facto protection in a cathedral, manage to appear so permanently immaculate, despite hiding in a damp cellar?

Head-scratching questions aside, the skill that has gone into the film is unquestionable. The battle-scarred landscape of Nanjing is eye-wincingly realistic, and a scene involving an explosion in a paper shop is astonishingly captured in slow motion.

But while Bale throws his man-on-the-edge routine around with typical style, it doesn't always correspond with the more precise control of his Chinese counterparts.

And the vast chasm between the monstrousness of the Japanese soldiers and the all-out bravery of the Chinese is sometimes a little too much. While the film is unlikely to go down well in Japan, its international success is largely irrelevant. Given the growth in Chinese cinema, Bale is unlikely to be the last Hollywood star heading east.

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