Bale can't save 'Flowers of War'

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:52 PM ET

The Flowers of War is set in Nanking in 1937, the absolute nadir of the war between China and Japan. The city was a bloody battleground fixed in history by the grotesque incidents of looting, slaughter and rape by the Japanese.

The Flowers of War opens after Nanking has fallen. A group of Chinese schoolgirls runs in abject panic in advance of Japanese soldiers. The girls are making their way to Winchester Cathedral, where they are students; also on his way to the cathedral is an American, John Miller (Christian Bale), an undertaker sent to bury a local priest. He and the girls pick their way through the rubble of the city until they are safely at the walled church.

John Miller is quickly established as a drinker and an opportunist. He and the school girls are joined by a dozen Chinese prostitutes seeking refuge; the women scale the walls protecting the cathedral. The brightest of those professional women is Yu Mo (Ni Ni), who speaks English and who tells Miller he can rescue them all. The Japanese, she says, won't touch westerners.

Miller seems smitten with Yu Mo.

When Japanese soldiers muscle their way into the cathedral, looking for money and virgins to assault, Miller has to step up and protect his charges.

He puts on the dead priest's clothes and pretends to be a man of the cloth, and (spoiler alert!) turneth away wrath. It works. Now we will witness an inadvertent hero slowly but surely transformed from wastrel to saviour as he becomes engaged in saving the women under his care.

Bale plays a clumsy hero who does his best to protect his charges, but it isn't enough to save this film, which is not only huge and unwieldy, but seemingly unsure of what it wants to do/say/prove. For one thing, Bale's performance sticks out like a sore thumb, and we don't mean that in a good way.

For another, the grand finale, in which the prostitutes show their hearts of gold, just seems nonsensical. The film has several interesting subplots, one involving the father (Cao Kefan) of one of the schoolgirls and another involving one brave Chinese soldier (Tong Dawei) who goes up against Japanese soldiers single-handedly. Overall, however, this one plays like a Hallmark Movie of the Week.

This film is rated 18A


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