US film critics praise The Flowers of War

Updated: 2012-01-26 07:53

By Zhang Yuwei (China Daily)

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Chinese movie well received for its portrayal of the Rape of Nanjing

NEW YORK - The Flowers of War, a Chinese historical drama directed by Zhang Yimou starring Hollywood star Christian Bale, opened in 13 US cities, including New York and Los Angeles, on Jan 20.

Though the film isn't expected to be the box office hit it has been in China, critics have applauded the film's effort in bringing the Rape of Nanjing to American audiences unfamiliar with it.

The film is based on Chinese-American writer Yan Geling's novel 13 Flowers of Nanjing and depicts the Nanjing massacre in 1937 when Japan invaded China.

Zhang, a fifth-generation Chinese filmmaker, is known in the US for action films such as Hero (2002) and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006).

Flowers was released in China in mid-December and was a box-office hit. According to statistics released by the State Administration of Radio, TV and Film, the film was the highest grossing movie in 2011, taking in about 540 million yuan ($85 million) as of Jan 17.

US distributor Wrekin Hill Entertainment told the Wall Street Journal that they hope the film will connect as well with Western audiences as it has in the East. In its Academy-qualifying one-week run in the US in December, Flowers grossed about $90,000.

The film was China's Oscar nominee for best foreign language film but was not shortlisted. However, it will compete in the Asian Film Awards in March in Singapore, where it has been nominated for six awards, including best film and best director. Another Chinese film competing in the award contest is Flying Swords and Dragon Gate, which will open in the US as the first 3D Chinese kungfu movie later this year.

A review of the movie in the New York Observer's says it serves as a needed education to those who know little about this part of the history.

"Now the great Chinese director Zhang Yimou has made a valiant and compassionate effort to enlighten the ignorant. The Flowers of War is his best film since Raise the Red Lantern. It is emotionally shattering," the Observer said in the review.

Bob Birchard, a feature film editor at the American Film Institute, said from an American perspective, it is worth seeing a film telling a part of the history that Americans are not familiar with.

"Well you can ask that same question about any historical film - why to make it when it is already done and over - but you make films or write books based on the elements of history that can reflect on the current time," Birchard said.

But different viewers have different options.

The Washington Post's review gives Flowers two starts out of four, saying it "has a little bit of everything: action and romance, suspense and intrigue" but is missing "restraint".

"Melodrama is often a key ingredient in wartime drama, but the sobering, unthinkable events that occurred during the Rape of Nanking (now called Nanjing) after the 1937 Japanese invasion of the Chinese Nationalist capital don't need to be dressed up and paraded out; they speak powerfully on their own stark terms," says the Post's review.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the top five foreign language films released in the US only brought in around $40 million combined while American films collectively made billions internationally over the last four years.

Chinese films in the US generally struggle to compete with Hollywood ones. But Birchard said Zhang and Bale may have enough star power to attract US moviegoers.

China Daily

(China Daily 01/26/2012 page4)