Just watched this Zhang Yimou film in a local theatre today with a Chinese friend. It was so powerful that I had to step out about halfway through to calm myself down. The last movie that brought tears to my eyes was probably The Game, which was a completely different type of movie, but a psychological thriller none-the-less. I was speechless after that movie and I feel the same with this one.
Since my friend was a woman whose mother came from Nanjing it was extra moving for us. All I could do was give her a shoulder and a hug at the moments when we both wanted to close our eyes.
I’m sure this movie will get mixed reviews, but I would say that a movie which can twist the audience in so many directions is truly a piece of work. There are reasons to feel love, hate, sorrow, and joy in this tri-lingual film. And the subtitles are as important to the experience as the blood that is spilled on the ash-covered Nanjing city streets; as searing as the colorful church glass that shadders from a heroic snipers bullet; as garish as the bodies mutilated by acts of inhumane terror.
The hatred many Chinese have for the Japanese is excusable after watching such a film based on the stories of survivors. But certainly there can be no repeat of such an event. And to see an American opportunist caught in a moral dilemma was also intriguing… I do wonder how he had the courage to protect the women as he did.
Certainly, my modern life here in China is no where near comparable to 1937, but I feel rather uncomfortable at the moment. In about 1 hour, I will teach my Japanese students online. I wonder if they’ve seen this movie. I wonder what they have been taught of the Nanjing Massacre. I wonder if the memories of their retired soldiers are as visceral as those of my friend’s parents. Either way, the Rape of Nanking is certainly one of the darkest stains on the scroll of modern history and occasional reminders, such as the Flowers of War, are valuable to us all.
If you are interested in more movies about this subject, watch Nanking! Nanking! which was filmed in 2009.
- Christian Bale in China to promote Nanjing movie (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Christian Bale discusses Nanking-set film Flowers of War (cbc.ca)
- Christian Bale defends Nanjing massacre film (guardian.co.uk)