The Flowers Of War Review

Everyone has skeletons in their cupboard, it’s just some of these are in greater need of a public airing than others.

It’s late 1930’s era Nanking, then capital of China, and triumphant Japanese soldiers are ransacking the city in search of a few soulless spoils of war.

But these animals aren’t interested in material wealth, just death and rape.

Of course, that’s reflective of soldiers in general rather than the Japanese.

Despite the heroic propaganda we’re fed about our armed forces.

Two young girls in uniforms desperately flee for their lives as they seek shelter from the bombs, bullets and butcherer’s swarming around them.

Bayonets are thrust into anything a human could hide in, yet the girls who are killed like this are the lucky ones.

A white man with a bushy beard and broken Chinese scrambles around amid the firestorm in search of a convent, when he stumbles upon the two young girls hiding place and a pillaging military man.

The westerner is John Miller, and as he’s played by Christian Bale, I was kind of hoping he’d just Batman the Japanese soldier and that’d be the end of that.

Instead, an act of god – which that comic book character appears to have morphed into for a lot of lost, little white boys out there – strikes down their attacker, which is lucky as the two girls just so happen to be from the nearby convent.

Lucky they weren’t atheist’s I suppose.

The reluctant hero is lead to the convent by these two girls and back to his reason for being in this war torn mess.

Miller is a mortician and he’s come to bury the recently deceased priest in charge of the convent who’s just collaterally damaged his way to heaven.

And I really think Miller needs to consider what jobs he takes on more carefully in future.

Despite the lack of a body, with the priest having literally been blown to kingdom come, Miller demands payment from the boy who’s now in charge.

As he searches the convent for anything of value, or anything to drink, the colourful women of the Qinhuai River break in to the grounds as they try to escape the raping of their city outside.

And Miller spies one or two things he’d most definitely like to get his hands on.

So he stays at the convent, but it won’t be long ’til the rampaging soldiers find them; and when they do not even a house of god will hold them back.

The Flowers Of War is that other film starring Christian Bale released this summer, though it really is no contest about which one you should see.

(hint: it’s the one where you can actually understand what’s being said – even if they’re speaking Chinese)

Hopefully Bale’s presence will help draw more of an audience to the true story of Nanking’s rape at the hands of murderous Japanese soldiers, which some historians still deny to this day.

Having deliberately destroyed all official records of this savage massacre after their surrender in 1945, Japan’s less than imperial army are estimated to have raped and killed up to 300,000 unarmed Chinese civilians.

It’s enough to make you think those yank nuclear bombs were warranted.

Naturally, The Flowers Of War indulges in a little creative licence in telling its story to reflect the desperate time this was for inhabitants of the city, but that’s easily accepted when the point of the film is to shine a light on one of the best kept secrets of the second world war.

The film itself is beautifully made, with some stunning action scenes in the beginning before the true horrors of war begin to grind you down.

The Flowers Of War isn’t easy viewing a lot of the time, but when you make a film about something as inhuman as what happened in Nanking, how can it be?

I just hope enough people see this so that Japan stop trying to deny this particular skeleton in their closet.

Jonathan Campbell

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August 2012
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