The Flowers Of War is a historical drama starring Christian Bale. It is a fictionalized portrayal of very real events that took place in 1937 while Japanese soldiers occupied the Chinese capitol, Nanking. Widely known as the Nanking Massacre or the Rape of Nanking, it is one of the darkest moments in modern Chinese history, where some estimates believe 300,000 Chinese people were massacred.
Using those horrific events as the setting, an American mortician named John Miller (Bale) stumbles into a Catholic church as he goes to bury the priest who ran it. Hiding out at the church from the carnage, he becomes wrapped up into the lives of children left behind at the church with no protection, and a group of brothel workers who see the church as a refuge from the Japanese soldiers. The crux of the story revolves around Miller growing into a protector of the children at the convent, as he pretends to be the priest.
This is an emotionally affecting drama with strong performances by the entire cast, including the young Chinese actresses who play the children left behind at the Catholic convent on their own before John Miller enters their lives. The movie is spoken in a mixture of three languages (English, Japanese and a local Chinese dialect) as Bale’s character is not supposed to understand much in the foreign languages. Fortunately his love interest, a prostitute named Yu Mo, just so happens to speak fluent English and can translate for him. Some might find that a little too cute, but it’s the weakest point in a tight script that builds to a powerful emotional climax as the Japanese reveal their plans for the children.
The movie is capably directed by Zhang Yimou, mainly known for such movies as Hero and House Of The Flying Daggers. The intense warfare and action is depicted as strongly and realistic as anything seen in the biggest Hollywood productions. The Flowers Of War is the most expensive movie ever made in Chinese history and really brings the complete Hollywood treatment to this moment in Chinese history.
The movie pulls no punches and the atrocities are shown with an utter degree of realism. It makes a visceral impact on an emotional level as we see the worst horrors that war can create and its consequences on civilians. The characters are all multi-dimensional with individual personalities. The Flowers Of War is a haunting drama that will stay with you long after you have seen it and can’t be recommended enough.
While not quite reference quality, the transfer for The Flowers Of War is superb. The 142-minute film is encoded in AVC on a BD-50, averaging around 22 Mbps for the main feature. The beautiful cinematography is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1, displaying an excellent eye for composition with gorgeous set design. The most expensive movie ever made in China at $90 million, every dollar is visible up on the screen.
The Blu-ray master was derived from a digital intermediate. The movie itself was shot primarily on film and some limited use of HD video. The image is incredibly sharp with impressive clarity and resolution. There are no traces of any filtering and just the faintest hint of ringing in a few scenes. Detail is extraordinary and most close-ups demonstrate a superior level of transparency to the actors being filmed. Everything on their faces, good or bad, is plainly visible and out in the open.
While the more restrained drama goes on inside the church, the color palette is warmer and more inviting compared to the harsh, bleached look of the war-torn Nanking. Battle scenes favor the cold tonality found in many other war movies of modern times, such as Saving Private Ryan. Black levels are generally spot on with perfect contrast. Darker scenes display a strong sense of depth and shadow detail. Lionsgate has served up a satisfactory video encode that is clean from artifacts or flaws.
The only audio option is a 7.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack that in some spots sounds as good as any I’ve heard on the Blu-ray format. It makes excellent use of the surround channels and creates a soundfield that envelopes the listener with a flurry of activity from all directions. Battle scenes come alive with the hail of bullets and explosions that will give your subwoofer a tough workout. This soundtrack is reference quality and nearly on par with any Hollywood production featuring intense battle scenes.
The haunting and delicate musical score plays with the utmost fidelity and is spread throughout all channels, adding an effective backdrop to the drama on the screen. Ambiance is heightened by the precise and judicious use of realistic sound effects in the church. This mix shines from the loudest of battle scenes to the more tender dramatic moments, showcasing a dynamic range rarely heard today. Voices as soft as a whisper are cleanly heard and the multi-language dialogue is crystal-clear.
One cool extra feature is the presence of a DTS-HD MA sound check, which tests if your 7.1 channels are correctly connected and in phase.
The extra features mainly come in a documentary called Behind the Scenes of The Flowers of War, broken up into five different featurettes that add up to over 90 minutes in HD. These featurettes detail the production behind the scenes with involvement from all the main participants, including Christian Bale and the director, Zhang Yimou.
For the most part, they are subtitled in English; the production staff were mainly Chinese. It gives a great sense of what it took to make this film and is worth a viewing for serious fans of the movie. Particularly interesting are the cast’s comments about Christian Bale, apparently the most popular guy on the set even though he barely spoke their language. One young actress practically breaks down into tears when the filming is nearing its end.
Also included is the movie’s own theatrical trailer. Lionsgate has also provided a number of trailers for other movies from their catalog, including 3:10 to Yuma, Biutful, Apocalypse Now, and The Conspirator.
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