DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Flowers Of War – Blu-Ray (2012)

Chinese war saga is a visual treat in high definition.

Published on July 22, 2012

The Flowers Of War – Blu-Ray (2012)

The Flowers Of War – Blu-Ray (2012)

Cast: Christian Bale; Ni Ni; Xinyi Zhang; Tianyuan Huang; Xiting Han
Studio: Lions Gate [7/10/12]
Director: Yimou Zhang
Video: 2.40:1 anamorphic/enhanced, 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Cantonese, Spanish
Extras: Behind the Scenes Of The Flowers Of War: The Birth Of the Flowers Of War; Meeting Christian Bale; the Newborn Stars; Hard Time During War; Perfection Of Light And Color
Length: 142 minutes
Rating: Audio: ****       Video: ****         

Director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House Of Flying Daggers) has made a film of the 1937 Nanking Massacre with a huge budget ($90 million). Continuing the emergence of Chinese film, The Flowers Of War (based on a true story) is a lavishly-filmed historical drama that recounts the struggles of a group of young females at a Catholic school (Winchester Cathedral) against the backdrop of the Japanese brutal invasion. John Miller (Christian Bale) a traveling mortician whose path crosses with the isolated school children, is the central focal point. Forced by circumstances to masquerade as a priest, he attempts to form a bond with the group, and in particular a resolute 13-year-old named Shu (a brilliant Xinyi Zhang) and a “ward” of the institution (Tianyuan Huang). Complicating things is the arrival of a group of local prostitutes who hide in the basement. Miller becomes infatuated with the quasi-leader of the working girls, Yu Mo (played by dazzling newcomer, Ni Ni). The Japanese soldiers are securing the area, which is patrolled by one remaining Chinese officer.

In the midst of trying to save the children, the brutal atrocities of war rear themselves. The script is awkward and doesn’t necessarily do justice to the performances. The children are outstanding and move the viewer. Bale’s hushed words and quirky persona seem anachronistic, but his screen presence is palpable. Perhaps the star of the movie is the photography and art direction. The contrast of the drab, bombed-out town and the garish costumes of the prostitutes crystallizes the fragility of life in the war zone. Yimou Zhang’s use of lighting is sensational.  Melancholic lulls are interrupted by sudden acts of unimaginable horror. The portrayal of the Japanese soldiers is one dimensional, but the gradual connection between Miller and the school children is given ample time to develop. Overall, the heart-wrenching tale is moving and the sustained, deliberate pace is effective.

The transfer to Blu-ray is exceptional. Muted color shading (especially in the earlier scenes) is subtle yet crisp. When there is a transition to more vivid color, it bursts onto the screen. The photography (Zhao Xiaoding) is creative. Slow motion sequences of flying glass are ballet-like. The hand-held cameras bring urgency to the combat scenes. The DTS surround sound is impeccable. Hushed dialogue, cracking glass and flying bullets are captured with pristine clarity. All of the quiet dialogue is clear. The bonus features include a detailed look into the movie’s creative processes.

—Robbie Gerson

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