The trailer for Zhang Yimou’s new film The Flowers of War (金陵十三钗) has just debuted, and the clip certainly shows off a bit of where that $100 million USD budget went.
The movie features Christian Bale in the role of John Haufman, a mortician sent to bury a priest at a girls’ boarding school during the Rape of Nanking. Based on a true story, Bale’s mortician dons the robes of the recently deceased priest, and assumes his identity in order to protect the girls as their school comes under siege from Japanese troops.
And if that wasn’t enough, the pretend priest also deals with prostitutes seeking refuge at the school, one of whom he promptly falls in love with. Producers know better than anybody that if the movie’s going to play in Kansas, the lead’s gotta have a love interest!
Meanwhile, the Batman/Bateman heartthrob is probably more familiar with the emotional baggage of Japan’s WWII actions than any other Hollywood actor. As a 13-year-old with only TV work and obscure Swedish fantasy films to his name, Bale starred as the lead in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, a film based on J.G. Ballard’s account of his war-time Shanghai childhood.
At an earlier 20-minute preview during the Toronto International Film Festival, the Los Angeles Times reported that the audience wasn’t exactly riveted:
American buyers will now have to weigh how U.S. audiences might receive the dual-language nature of the film (the 20-minute presentation seemed to split about 70% English, 30% Mandarin) and its somewhat earnest and sentimental feel. After the screening ended, there was applause, but it could hardly be described as sustained.
Earnest and sentimental? Definitely sounds like a Zhang Yimou film to us.
We really hope that, come awards season, the relevant committees avoid hurting the feelings of the Chinese people and at the very least dole out some nominations for Zhang’s epic. Otherwise, we might have to bear witness to a hastily created Confucius Oscars.