By Alex Smallridge, Muse staff
Yimou Zhang’s recent period epic, The Flowers of War, has gained international recognition with a Golden Globe nomination for “Best Foreign Film” and as the Chinese entry to “Best Foreign Film” category at the Oscars.
The Flowers of War takes place during the 1937 Nanking Massacre, otherwise known as the Rape of Nanking, and still incites passion generations later. The Nanking Massacre remains one of the most horrific events in modern history, remembered for the genocide and mass rape by Japanese soldiers of citizens and surrendered soldiers in the city of Nanking during the second Sino-Japanese War.
The Flowers of War, while a well-made drama, is Zhang’s attempt to Hollywood-ize his films, clear in his pulling in of Christian Bale of The Dark Knight fame. The Flowers of War champions the protection of innocence and survival as it follows a group of survivors trying to live against all odds in Nanking, set against the bleak and smoky backdrop of this war-stained city.
While moving and potent at times, the story is often very heavy handed. Zhang is constantly pushing the horror of the situation and makes the struggle very obvious. There are even moments of utter stupidity by the characters that gain nothing personally or story wise but, in fact, make things more difficult for the characters and more painful for the audience.
Above being frightening and tear jerking, The Flowers of War is potentially painful to watch. Audiences are used to violence and death in movies, but rape can affect on another level. As The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo demonstrated, rape is shocking and brings the audience to unparalleled anxiety. The Flowers of War film truly horrifies the audience with the brutality of the Japanese; their evil is taken to a level that would never be believed in pure fiction.
And it is certainly evil that the film is trying to show. The Flowers of War can almost be considered a propaganda movie to portray the Japanese as unambiguously vile and cruel. Very early on in the film, there is a defining moment that truly encapsulates the experience of the entire production: we see the Japanese soldiers’ gleeful smiles as they stumble upon the 12 year old school girls, followed by the creepily overjoyed shriek, “We’ve got virgins!”
This entire film fills audiences with pity for the Chinese at the hands of these monsters and amazement at their heroics. The Chinese situation also transforms the Westerner, one who began as corrupt and disgusting and ends a hero, transformed by the plight and need of the Chinese. It unambiguously glorifies the Chinese and is a cry for attention and sympathy.
To fully conclude, The Flowers of War is an overblown war drama that goes to great lengths to make the situation for the characters – and the audience – as painful as possible.