January 06, 2012

The Flowers of War- Landmark Sunshine

Mike: On Friday, December 23rd, I went to the Landmark Sunshine on Houston St. to catch an afternoon screening of The Flowers of War, the latest epic from Zhang Yimou set against the backdrop of the Rape of Nanjing, and China's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. It played at the Sunshine for a week to also qualify for Best Picture and other awards. It opened a week earlier in China, where it has become an absolute smash, already grossing over $80 million. It returns to US theaters soon, presumably.
As I entered the Sunshine, I felt as if Chinatown had shifted five blocks North. The lobby was filled with Chinese people, all waiting to get in to see The Flowers of War. Once in the auditorium, I think I was the only white guy there. I was surprised. To be honest, I was expecting a quarter-full room of in-the-know movie fans, like when I went to see Rampart there a few weeks before. When I bought my afternoon ticket, I noticed that the evening screening was sold out, which is pretty impressive considering the one week engagement was barely advertised. I wasn't aware then that the film was already such a big deal in China, so in retrospect it's no surprise that a lot of people from nearby Chinatown came out in full force. The crowd was courteous and quiet - the show went down without incident, but that's usually how things go at the Sunshine.
Christian Bale stars, adding some Western starpower and broadening its international appeal. While the film is China's Best Foreign Language submission, I wonder how much of the film is actually in Chinese (and Japanese, Mandarin... I think there were a few languages spoken). To me it seemed like it was about 60% English. I'm surprised it qualified.
The film is an admirable effort - a big budget, a big action star, a handful of battle scenes... very ambitious, and I think it will be a very satisfying film to many audiences. To me, it was enjoyable and interesting, but ultimately a letdown. It's a tad too long and way too sentimental. If War Horse or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was too hokey or schmaltzy for your tastes, steer clear. Christian Bale's character, a scoundrel mortician pretending to be a priest after trying to loot a church, has a handful of Brett Farve-like breakdowns that are out of place in an unsubtle attempt to add some tearjerking to the film. Bale has a strong leading man quality, but it's not exactly a great performance from him.

The always excellent Paul Schneider appears in the film for less than a minute, practically reduced to a cameo. I wonder if his role was initially more substantial. Oh, there's also a musical number too. A laughingly bad, embarrassing, and totally out of place musical number.


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