“The Flowers of War” has a lot going for it. It’s directed by visionary auteur Zhang Yimou (“Hero,” “House of Flying Daggers”); stars recent Oscar-winner Christian Bale; is China’s official bid for the Foreign Film Oscar; and boasts the largest production budget in China’s history ($90 million). Unfortunately, the trailer for the based-on-a-true-story war epic doesn’t live up to the promise.
Set in 1937 during Japan’s invasion of China, “The Flowers of War” stars Bale as an American mortician who impersonates a priest in order to save a convent’s schoolchildren. Another storyline follows local prostitutes also seeking shelter in the convent.
Like all of Yimou’s films, it looks stunning and the scale he’s working on is impressive. But as the trailer presents it, the film reads as overwrought with Bale not showing much range. Time will tell whether this is just a badly cut preview or a flawed but well-meaning film. And — to be fair — this trailer was cut for China’s audiences, not America’s. The underlying story is much more familiar to the Chinese public, which might help explain some of the herky-jerky editing choices made here.
Producers first screened footage for buyers during the Toronto International Film Festival; the film remains without North American distributor. It opens in China on December 16.