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The Flowers of War Review

Other Critics provided by

Critics scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more favorable reviews.

  • 3.0

    out of 100

    Mixed or average reviews
    based on a weighted average of all
    critic review scores.

  • 30

    out of 100

    The Hollywood Reporter Todd McCarthy

    It's something you'd think only the crassest of Hollywood producers would come up with - injecting sex appeal into an event as ghastly at the Nanjing massacre - but it's an element central to The Flowers of War, a contrived and unpersuasive look at an oft-dramatized historical moment.

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  • 50

    out of 100

    Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert

    Now let me ask you: Can you think of any reason the character John Miller is needed to tell his story? Was any consideration given to the possibility of a Chinese priest? Would that be asking for too much?

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  • 50

    out of 100

    Chicago Tribune

    When it comes to storytelling, Zhang Yimou's 19th feature is decidedly backward-looking: A lavish period weepie set against the atrocities of the Nanking Massacre, "Flowers" abounds with well-worn movie archetypes and slathers on schmaltz.

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For Families provided by Common Sense Media

Pause for kids 16 & under

Graphic rape and killing battle heroism and sacrifice.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Flowers of War alternates between scenes of intense wartime brutality and sentimental dramatic moments. The savagery inflicted upon the Chinese in 1937 by invading Japanese troops during the historical atrocity known as "The Rape of Nanking" is graphically portrayed. The threat of rape underscores the entire film, and there are fierce fire fights, grisly shots of dismembered bodies, exploding soldiers, point-blank shootings, and multiple violent sexual assaults on both courtesans and innocent schoolgirls. Occasional swearing (including "s--t," "bastards," "ass," "f--k," "whore," and more) is both heard and seen in subtitles. Characters smoke throughout the movie and drink wine and whiskey; the hero (Christian Bale) is introduced as a hard-drinking man who passes out after getting very drunk. One tender love scene takes place between the hero and a courtesan; there's no nudity, but the characters kiss passionately and embrace as they begin to undress.

  • Families can talk about the very graphic violence in this movie. What were the filmmakers trying to achieve? How did you feel about what you saw? How does the impact of this kind of violence compare to the gore of a horror movie?
  • How historically accurate do you think The Flowers of War is? Why might filmmakers choose to change certain details when telling a fact-based story? Where resources are available if you'd like to know more about the actual event?
  • How did the filmmakers choose to show John Miller's change from scoundrel to true hero? What events influenced that change?

The good stuff
  • message true3

    Messages: The movie reminds us that the human spirit can triumph over monstrous evil. Personal redemption is possible even in times of chaos and terror, and unlikely people are capable of feats of honor and sacrifice in spite of past deeds and behavior.

  • rolemodels true2

    Role models: The flawed hero -- a hard-drinking, selfish loner -- is called upon to protect and save victims in a brutalized city. Little by little, he's able to rise to the task and behave with integrity, courage, and selflessness. The few Chinese soldiers on screen are pure of heart and willing to sacrifice their lives, but all Japanese soldiers are portrayed as evil and barbaric. Two sets of female characters exist side by side in a church compound: innocent convent schoolgirls and women from a brothel who've taken refuge there.

What to watch for
  • violence false5

    Violence: Many violent sequences include battle scenes and their bloody aftermath, as well as several graphic sexual assaults. Innocents flee from gunfire, bayonets, and automatic weapons. Both soldiers and civilians are savagely attacked. There are point-blank shootings, piles of bodies (children, adults, soldiers), gruesome injuries, and explosions in slow motion hitting their targets. A dozen young girls are in danger throughout, one of whom falls to her death. Two prostitutes are gang raped and murdered by cackling Japanese soldiers.

  • sex false2

    Sex: A major story element is the sexual disparity between convent schoolgirls and young women from a brothel who are forced to hide out together. In contrast to the movie's frequent sexual violence (see "Violence" section), there's some flirtatiousness between two adults and one gentle love scene with kissing and embracing as the couple starts to undress (no actual nudity, but bare backs and shoulders are visible).

  • language false4

    Language: Occasional spoken obscenities and swearing (others are translated from Chinese or Japanese in subtitles) includes "s--t," "bastard," "f--k," "ass," "boobs," "hell," "crapper," and "whore."

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not applicable

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false3

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Initially, the film's hero is a chain-smoking, hard-drinking man. He carries a flask, chugs whiskey and wine, gets very drunk, and passes out. The brothel girls drink wine and smoke.