- Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
- Audio Codec: English/Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (48kHz/24-bit)
- Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
- Subtitles Color: White
- Region: A (Region-Locked)
- Rating: R
- Run Time: 142 Mins.
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Blu-ray Release Date: July 10, 2012
- List Price: $29.99
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Zhang Yimou brings the beautiful style of light and color that defined his martial arts epics Hero and The House of Flying Daggers to a film of a different sort with the touching wartime drama, The Flowers of War (Jin líng shí san chai; 金陵十三釵; 金陵十三钗), based on the novel of the same name based on true events. For me, The Flowers of War is like a reintroduction to star Christian Bale (The Fighter; The Dark Knight; Howl’s Moving Castle), or, at the very least, it evokes memories of my introduction to him. It was way back in 1987, when Bale was just an adolescent, not much younger than I, truth be told, that I first recall seeing him in the spectacular wartime drama Empire of the Sun. How fitting, then, that he should revisit a similar role, now more mature and wiser as an actor, with Zhang’s latest film.
Now, Bale’s character, John Miller, is no longer simply struggling to survive the Japanese occupation in China during World War II as a wide-eyed, naive boy, but, rather, he is already a world-weary mortician who’s seen too much death to be affected by it and must have some outside influence change him, rather than the other way around. That influence comes in the form of the church he arrives at in the middle of an occupied Nanking in order to bury the deceased priest whose blown up body is no longer there. A lack of funds for payment, as the church’s sole boy (the church houses a group of young adolescent girls under its protection) tells him, leads John to insist on staying, the purpose being to search the premises for money, food, and wine in payment for his dangerous journey there. A group of beautiful prostitutes from the local brothel arriving, forcing their way in, and seeking refuge in the church cellar forces a change in his plans. The ladies’ de facto leader, the beautiful and seductive Yu Mo (played superbly by the fetching young Ni Ni in her first major role) asks John for his help to smuggle them and the church’s young girls out of Nanking, a task he at first refuses. Later, however, when a group of Japanese soldiers break into the sanctuary and begin to assault the young girls, John, donning the priest’s robes, tries to stop them and risks his own life. It is only when a sole Chinese soldier standing vigil across the street from the church rescues them by firing upon the enemy do the Japanese retreat in search of the gunman. Suddenly, watching the body of one dead girl before him, John has a change of heart and determines to act as the Father and come up with a plan to rescue the girls and the women.
The entire story of The Flowers of War is one of unbelievable growth, courage, outrageous sacrifice, and honor during a time of war. The portrayal of the Japanese is not in the kindest of light, and unsurprisingly so, should anyone read a bit of history about what exactly went on in China during World War II, but Zhang does still instill some moments of genuine honor and duty in even some of the Japanese officers. Still, it is ultimately the beauty in which The Flowers of War is filmed and the truthfulness in the portrayals from Bale and Ni Ni that creates such a gripping journey that makes the film seem so profound.
Apparently done with a combination of 35mm (on Arriflex 435 Xtreme cameras, most likely for MOS, special effects shots) and mainly Sony CineAlta F35 cinematographic HD cameras in HDCAM format, The Flowers of War looks excellent in this AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement from Lionsgate. There are some scenes that are purposely gritty – mostly the war sequences – but this is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps intensify the moment. Other bits are less gritty, but, even though captured in HD, still maintain a nice filmic appearance with a thin veneer of video “noise” that looks more like grain that it looks like anything electronic or unwanted. The flesh tones are accurate, colors, like those in the church’s stained glass window or the women’s elaborate dresses are rich, textures in everything from clothing to skin are strong and contrast is spot on.
The audio engineers have done an amazing job with the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack that is available for The Flowers of War. From the opening scenes where listeners are engulfed in a 360-degree soundscape of the battlefield, with sounds moving through all channels and dialogue faithfully rendered, the mix is a beautifully balanced and immersive one. Even in quieter scenes, one can often hear the distant sounds of the outside world ping off in the distance from the side or from directly behind. It’s marvelously dynamic, well balanced, aggressive when need be, but often quite subtle and realistic.
A lengthy production featurette in multiple parts is offered up alongside the film’s original theatrical trailer. It’s worth sitting through and above average in comparison to most of the “making ofs” offered on releases.
- Behind the Scenes of The Flowers of War (1.78:1; 1080p/24):
The Definitive Word
The reality of the difficulties faced during war aren’t always as easy to capture on film as one may thing they should be. Films dealing with the subject matter can often seem overly sentimental, overly trite, or even gratuitous. The Flowers of War doesn’t suffer from any of these issues and one can go into the film without any misgivings. It is beautiful, heartfelt, and powerful, with exceptional performances from the cast. Highly recommended.
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