Set in 1937 in Nanjing, China during the Nanking Massacre, at the time of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a group of escapees, finding sanctuary in a Church compound, risk their lives as they struggle to survive the plight and persecution brought on by the violent invasion of the city.
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What you're really doing when you make a slick state-sanctioned comic strip version of one of the darkest hours of 20th century history, replete with mustache-twirling villains, slow-mo blood sprays, hookers with hearts of gold, and heroic Chinese soldiers who can wipe out whole platoons of Japs singlehandedly, is pissing on the memory of the victims. Zhang, who once had talent, is a pretty contemptible character.
Upon viewing this film, my reaction was no longer "What's Christian Bale doing in a Zhang Yimou film?", but quite the opposite- "What's Zhang Yimou doing in a Christian Bale movie?" Nonetheless, it's solid entertainment.
Christian Bale stars in this beautifully filmed but strangely overcooked drama about a drunken mortician who unwittingly becomes the guardian of a group of Catholic schoolgirls and refugee prostitutes during the Japanese invasion of Nanking during WWII. Beautifully filmed but almost self-consciously so, the beauty of the images often seem out of place. Nanking story told much better in CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH.
First half of the movie is very irregular, and needs serious editing; second half picks up but the damage has been done for the viewer and it does not compensate for the first half. Not my favorite Zhang Yimou film. Bale does just "O.K.".
This could have been a good movie if not for one simple problem...WHY IS CHRISTIAN BALE THE STAR OF THIS MOVIE?! This is a Chinese story, why not tell it from the perspective of a Chinese man such as a priest or a green soldier who has not seen the horrors of war up close before. This film completely reeks of racist Hollywood messing around with things that ought not to be messed around with.
While technically proficient (especially the camera work), it gets a bit too propagandic, and somehow seems like an insensitive kind of movie to make about one of the worst massacres ever committed. Bale doesn't exactly help on that front either.