Movie Review: THE FLOWERS OF WAR (JIN LÍNG SHÍ SAN CHAI) (2011) – Tragic Tale Of Survival

Published by Shah Shahid on

I’m not much for foreign movies, beyond my Indian movies. But I had heard about the entirely Chinese movie with only a Hollywood actor, when it was being made. It piqued my interest as I’m a fan of the actor, and I must say that I’m glad I didn’t miss FLOWERS OF WAR. Here is my Movie Review…

Blank Page Rating: 5 Out Of 5 Stars

Christian Bale in The Flowers Of War 2011 Movie Review

Set in China, during the Japanese occupation of a city sometime during WWII, THE FLOWERS OF WAR centers around a convent of pre-teen girls who find themselves without any caretaker in a massive church. Hired to bury their former priest, professional Mortician John shows up and ends up being the only adult. The hitch is that John is a horrible person.

As more complications arise, through a twisting and turning of intensely graphic events that go beyond the grasp of anyone, John has to end up pretending to be the Priest and caretaker of these girls, in order to protect them from the Japanese soldiers, death and worse. Add to this a group of prostitutes who also seek shelter in the church at the risk of endangering the young girls and threatening even more wrath from the soldiers.

Christian Bale in The Flowers Of War 2011 Movie Review

an innocent group of girls and their unlikely saviour…

THE FLOWERS OF WAR is an amazingly soft and sensitive movie with gut wrenching drama and tension that will make anyone cringe. The story is so simple yet so complexly layered that it’s hard to foresee what’s coming next.

The story follows not only this crude and immoral man in John, played to perfection by Christian Bale, but also a story about the innocence of these girls and how they are caught up in a literal warzone with little understanding, and even less choice in the matter.

Christian Bale in The Flowers Of War 2011 Movie Review

This will a spoiler-free review but even the title, has more multi layered meaning than can be initially understood. Despite being a soft tale about the survival of these girls, dependent on the redemption of a flawed man, THE FLOWERS OF WAR is much more than that.

Maybe it’s the quiet tone of the film, or the softness of the subject matter involving the young girls, but the violence in this movie is so much more violent than anything I’ve ever seen. And I don’t mean due to the graphic nature of it. In the context of this story, and the setting, the graphic violence is that much more stunning and shocking. The gruesome tactics used by the Japanese soldiers to torture their captives is nightmare inducing.

Christian Bale in The Flowers Of War 2011 Movie Review

scenes full of these moments…

THE FLOWERS OF WAR sees performances of a variety, all of which are brilliant in their own ways. Ni Ni as the leader of a group of prostitutes shines. The convent of young girls is just so innocent that their bursts of outrage and desperation are brilliantly executed by each of the young performers. But the show stealer to me has to be Christian Bale.

Despite his long and varied work as an actor, I must say that THE FLOWERS OF WAR is arguably Christian Bale’s best performance ever. In 1 movie, he is able to portray a horrible man invoking disgust, whose actions later can make one empathize with him, and even pity his predicament. Bale’s delivery of a man well out of his depth, powerless to protect innocents is painful to watch. The scenes near the 3rd act were especially amazing, when every interaction he had with these young girls, was underlined by a voice trying to choke back tears.

Christian Bale in The Flowers Of War 2011 Movie Review

This is a powerful story of redemption. In a war torn city, a group of unlikely individuals have to find a way out. It’s a gripping film, executed with utter brilliance by Director Yimou Zhang. An intense movie, definitely not for the faint of heart, but with greatness in every frame is what FLOWERS OF WAR is.

Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad


ruth · September 17, 2013 at 9:27 PM

Hi Shah! I missed seeing this one but it’s on Netflix so I should really give it a watch soon. I’ve always liked Christian Bale and Zhang’s a visual master, glad to hear the story’s engaging too. Great review!

    Shah Shahid · September 23, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    Hey Ruth. Thanks for stopping by. This is a brilliant movie, and just… wow. It’s breathtaking.

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