Jin líng shí san chai (The Flowers of War) (2011)





Director:     Yimou Zhang.

Starring:      Christian Bale (John Miller), Ni Ni (Yo Mo), Xinyi Zhang (Shu), Tianyuan Huang (George Chen), Xiting Han (Yi), Doudou Zhang (Ling), Dawei Tong (Major Li), Atsurô Watabe (Colonel Hasegawa), Kefan Cao (Mr. Meng), Yangchunzi Yuan (Mosquito), Jia Sun (Hua (as Sun Jia), Yuemin Li (Dou), Bai Xue (Lan), Takashi Yamanaka (Lieutenant Asakura), Shigeo Kobayashi (Lieutenant Kato).

American tries to save girls and women at a cathedral during the rape of Nanking


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

"In the Autumn of 1937, having conquered Shanghai Japan turned its sights on the Chinese capital Nanking. Marking an especially dark chapter of human history, over 200,000 people lost their lives in the relentless battle for control of the city. Under impossible conditions, ordinary people fought for their very survival. This story is inspired by true events."

"After 20 days of continuous bombing, Nanking finally fell to the Japanese. It was December the 13th, 1937. My classmates and I couldn't get on the boat, we had to run back to the church, and were separated in the heavy fog along the way. Major Li only had a few men left. Nanking was no longer able to put up a fight, and those left behind ran for their lives."

The school girls are running for their lives. They try to get into a small area under a lot of debris, but the people inside say that they have no more room and push them away. Japanese troops come by the area and a soldier sticks his bayonet inside the area a couple of times. He sees blood on his bayonet so he calls out for assistance. The Japanese tell the people to come out and when they won't come out, they start shooting into the area.

An American is trying to find safety, but he has to keep moving around because the Japanese keeping shooting at him. He goes inside a factory area and jumps into a heap of what looks like flour. The heap starts collapsing to the floor below and the American is dropped into another heap. A Japanese soldier comes looking for him and bayonets the heap a couple of times. He then starts moving away. The American coughs and then starts running away. The Japanese soldiers chases after him and gets the American to stop. The American tries to explain that he is an American and not a soldier. He was working at the church. The Japanese fellow does not understand him and he is getting more and more jittery by the second. All of a sudden a wall falls on the soldier, probably killing him.

The American now jumps inside what looks like an abandoned factory oven. There are two Chinese girls inside. The Yank says he is trying to get to Westchester Cathedral in order to perform a burial service for Father Ingleman. The girls say they go to school there.

Major Li sets up a defensive position to oppose some Japanese. A bunch of young Chinese school girls are being chased by Japanese soldiers and some are being shot at. When the Japanese come in range of the Chinese weapons, the small group of Chinese open up on the soldiers killing most of them.

The Chinese soldiers start to move, but now a tank and lots of Japanese soldiers start firing at them and they start taking a lot of casualties. Almost all lof Major Li's men were killed. The school girl narrator says this was the last battle in Nanking.

The school girls reach the cathedral and go inside the outer gates. The American comes with the two girls and they are let in through the main gates. A small boy known as George Chentells the American that a bomb landed right where Father Ingleman stood and now he's all gone.

The American keeps insisting that he must be paid for anything and everything he does to assist the cathedral. The small boy with him keeps saying that there is no money in the church. The American doesn't believe him. He starts searching for money in the church.

A group of Chinese prostitutes come to the cathedral to stay, but the small boy, George Chen, won't let them come in. So the prostitutes start climbing over the wall. The narrator says:   "They were the famous women of the Qin Huai River."

The American whistles down to the women from an upper floor window. The women wave to him. They think he is a priest and he can help protect them.

The women take over the cellar. When they smell the bread that the American is baking, they come up out of the cellar. The American takes a liking to one of the women who can speak English. He introduces himself to her as John and she says her name is Yu Mo. He asks her to have a cup of coffee with him some time.

The woman goes to John's room. There's no coffee, so John gives her some wine from the cellar. He gives her some money and wants to start having sex with her. But she tells him: "I want you to take us out of Nanking."  John says that's not possible, but he still wants to have sex with her. She starts leaving the room. He says they have to work this out between them. She says that if he gets them out of Nanking, all the women will do unimaginably good things to him.

Major Li threatens George Chen with violence if he doesn't open the gate. George opens the gate. The Major carries a young lad over his shoulder. George shows him into the cellar and Major Li puts the fellow on one of the bunks used by the ladies. The women joke around but the Major is all seriousness as he starts cleaning the fellow and checking on his wound. The Major tells them the young fellow's name is Pu Sheng and he is just a child. He adds that he wants the lad to be in a warm place when he dies. The Major says thank you and leaves.

The convent girls sing a religious song. The Major looks in on them for a moment. One of these girls lost a shoe when trying to get away from the Japanese. The Major puts it by the door so someone might find it.

Before the Major leaves Yu Mo tells him she apologizes for the sharp tongues of the women. The drunken John drops a bottle of wine from the second floor steps and Major Li puts his sniper rifle sights on him. John is dressed up in a priest's outfit and he asks Yu Mo if she likes him like this. She's not too happy with John. Major Li tells her to tell the priest that the students cannot end up in the hands of the Japanese. Otherwise his men would have died in vain.

John comes down and starts heavily flirting with Yo Mo. Since he's drunk he is unpleasant to be around and the Major pulls him off of Yo Mo. From the floor John tells the Major that this is a place of peace and not war and the soldier should leave at once. Major Li asks the woman who is this guy really? She says he's an idiot and the Major should just go.

Major Li sleeps over at the paper shop across the street from the cathedral. John the "priest" sleeps on the floor in his room.

In the morning the women try to use the bathrooms, but one of the girls absolutely refuses to let them inside. This starts a fight between one of the women and the young girl. The prostitute throws the girl to the ground, but the girl gets back up. Just as soon as she finishes saying that she will never allow these women inside, she is hit by a bullet in the throat. The blood splashes onto the face of her opponent. The girl goes down.

The Japanese bust open the gates and pour onto the cathedral grounds. They start shooting at the windows and John has to dive for cover. The girls try to run down to the cellar before the Japanese see them, but they don't quite make it. So they run back upstairs to try to hide in the library. The Japanese just break down the doors. A soldier shouts out for Lt. Asakura to come up quick. He says they have virgins up here!

The Japanese start tearing off the uniforms of the girls. John tried to hide earlier, but hearing the screams of the girls brings him down to yell "stop!" at the soldiers. He shouts that he is the priest and this is the Lord's house and what they are doing is against all the rules of both man and God. The soldiers stop what they are doing and John shouts for the girls to get up here with him right now.

The Japanese compose themselves but soon they go back to their raping of the girls. John pulls a soldier off one of the girls, but he gets rifle-butted twice and goes down. Major Li tries to get to the cathedral to do something about this.

One of the girls really fights the soldiers, so they throw her over the railing on the second floor to the floor below, killing her. Other Japanese soldiers grab another girl and start to rape her, but sniper Li kills the man on top of her and when the man who was holding her down stands up, Li kills him too.

An officer blows his whistle and shouts that there are Chinese soldiers in the area. All the soldiers run out of the cathedral to get into formation.

Before Major Li worked his way up into a tower, he put down grenades on the streets. He now waits for the Japanese to move close to these grenades. When they do reach the grenades, Major Li starts shooting the grenades and the grenade shrapnel takes out quite a few Japanese soldiers.

With so many Japanese soldiers, they eventually kill Major Li. But as he falls out the window, we see that he has strapped his body with wires that when his body goes down the motion sets off a series of explosions, probably killing those who killed him.

Now a high ranking officer named Hasegawa arrives. He apologizes to the priest for what happened. John asks him not to hurt the children any more.

John and the children bury the two dead students. One of the girls pleads with John not to leave them.

The students go back into the cathedral and the prostitutes apologize to them for the fight they had earlier. The students listen, but don't say anything.

George Chen tells John that he ils a priest now, but John says he's not a priest. George says if the Japanese believe he is a priest, they may leave them alone. John seems not to have understood the last remark because he just repeats that he's not a priest. so George says John not be priest, but he has to tell that to the girls himself.

John proceeds to get stinking drunk. Yo Mo comes to see him. She asks him if he is staying? He says yeah. Yo Mo says: "Even though you were a drunken bastard last night, what you did today makes you a hero. "

John apologizes about last night. Yo Mo says that they had wanted John to get them out of Nanking, but after what happened today, it looks like he will just have to stay here and be a priest. Nevertheless, after the Japanese guards are gone, they still want John to help them escape.

The young lad in the cellar looks really ill. It looks like he doesn't have much time left to live. John looks over a truck near the cathedral to see if there is anyway to fix it enough to be at least functional.

The Chinese fellow who acts as translator for the Japanese is the father of one of the girls in the cathedral. He speaks to her about getting her out of Nanking, but she is just so disappointed in her father for collaborating with the Japanese that she does not even want to listen to what he has to say. Her fellow students listened to the conversation and call the girl a traitor. The daughter runs off.

John talks with the collaborator, Mr. Meng, and says that he is glad that Meng is working with the Japanese because that can help those at the cathedral get away from Nanking. He gives Ming a list of tools he needs to fix up the truck. And then he will need a permit to drive, but Meng says that's just too dangerous to get.

Yo Mo tells John that Meng's daughter Shu does not like seeing the two of them together, because the girl has a crush on him. John just laughs.

John cuts off his beard and shaves because Yo Mo doesn't like beards.

The young lad in the cellar dies. John is a mortician and he prepares the body for the funeral. The women are amazed as how good the boy's face looks.

Two of the prostitutes, Dou and Lan, went out to go get strings for a musical instrument called the pipa. Dou wants to play the instrument for the funeral of the recently deceased boy because the boy had a rough life and he reminded Dou of her own brother. But why did Lan go? Because she says she left an earring behind when they left the brothel in a rush.  .

Now the women ask John to go find the two women. John is doubtful of the success of such an effort, but since he has the highest probability of making it back, he will go.

George goes with John as he asks permission to get more food for the girls in the cathedral. They get it, but now they have to walk through hell with dead bodies rotting all over the streets.

John runs into an old buddy of his named Terry. Terry says he is getting on a boat right now and leaving Nanking. And there's room for John, but John just can't abandon the women he has grown so close to. Terry finds this refusal to get out of Nanking sheer idiocy.

The women find what they wanted and now try to make it back. They run into three other women and now all five women have to run for their lives because the Japanese are shooting at them. The two prostitutes hide and the soldiers rush by, but Dou says she dropped the pipa strings and has to go find them.  They find the strings, but the soldiers also find them. They rush back into their old brothel. Lan is shot through the throat. Duo jumps into the river, but two soldiers jump in after her. And so Dou is now being gang-raped by the Japanese soldiers.

Dou gets so angry that she bites part of the ear off a Japanese soldier. He rushes downstairs, grabs his rifle with its bayonet, goes back up and shoves the bayonet twice into her body.

John and George find the body of Lan a bloody mess with a spear projecting out of her body. Dou's body was in even worse shape.

The prostitutes cry over the loss of their two friends.

Mr. Meng brings the tools to fix the truck. He also brings a permit that was meant for his daughter, but now he cannot complete his plan because the Japanese don't trust him any more. He asks John to save his daughter's life, as well as the lives of the others.

John works on the truck during the night. He is making some progress. George helps him.

Hasegawa loves music, so John and the girls put on a performance for him. He is very pleased with the job they did. Hasegawa now wants the choir to celebrate the Japanese victory over Nanking. John tries to get out of it. But Hasegawa must insist because his superiors want the choir there. John keeps shouting: "Mr. Hasegawa, the children cannot go!" Hasegawa leaves.

One of the prostitutes had shown up behind the choir and an elaborate excuse was offered for her sudden appearance. She was placed with the others in the choir. Now the Japanese count the number of choir members and insist that they all have to come. After all the Japanese are gone, the prostitute says she's not going because the Japanese only murder, burn and rape all day long in Nanking. This frightens the girls. The prostitute runs out.

John tells the girls that these particular Japanese soldiers are different. They are more educated. They are officers and gentlemen. He does cry, however, and that might make the girls even more worried. Yo Mo says she will go to the concert instead of the other prostitute. John tells her he just can't let her do that.

Shu has a plan for the girls wherein they will never let the Japanese hurt them again. The girls all go up to the belfry. They are going to have a mass jump off the railing of the belfry. The prostitutes find out and chase after the girls. They assure them that they will go to the concert in their place.

Some of the prostitutes do not want to take the place of the girls. They have a big discussion about this. Yo Mo encourages them to do something heroic.  The women agree to go.

The girls are very worried about what will happen to the women after the concert. John tries to put a brave face on and lies to them that the women will be alright. Shu feels bad now about the way she treated Yo Mo. She apologizes to John for the way she acted. John tries to soothe her guilt.

The girls take their uniforms down to the women for them to try on. The uniforms will have to be modified. The women also say they will wrap their breasts to look more like girls. Later the women perform a song for the girls about the legend of the Qin Huai River.

John works on the make-up and hair to make Yo Mo look younger. He tells Yo Mo that he has already fallen in love with her. He kisses her passionately. Yo Mo appears before the females and they are impressed at how young she looks. So they all want a make-over to make them look younger.

When everything is done, they still have the problem of only having twelve girls when the Japanese demanded that thirteen girls come to the concert. So George volunteers to be dressed up as a girl and go to the concert. John doesn't think he can do it, but George insists. They have to make a wig for George. Meanwhile, the girls are cutting their hair short and blackening their faces.

Shu as narrator says: "This was the last time I saw George Chen."

The women break their mirrors and then wrap one end of the selected shards with cloth in order to make a primitive knife. They put the knives inside their clothing.

Here come the Japanese to get the girls. Mr. Meng begs one of the officers, to whom he gave bribes to, to at least let him see his girl one last time. The officer keeps telling him to get lost, but Mr. Meng won't stop pleading with the officer.

They file out of the church. They pass by John crying. One of the women starts panicking saying that she is not one of the students. The Japanese force her onto the truck. The truck pulls out.

The Japanese officer says now Mr. Meng has seen his daughter. He lifts his right hand up and fires a bullet into Mr. Meng's head.

John puts Mr. Meng's hat over his face. Now he rushes into the cathedral and picks up the girls. He hides them under special pallets he made for them. He then puts empty boxes on top of the pallets.

John starts up the engine and now drives out of the cathedral area. He has to stop at a Japanese check point. John gives four boxes of wine to the Japanese at the check point and they let him through. John tears down the dirt road heading out from Nanking.

Shu as narrator says: "Until this day I still don't know what happened to the women of the Qin Huai River. I never learned all of their names, and never saw them being taken away by the Japanese. So, I always imagine myself standing by the large round window, watching them walk in once again. "


This version of the Rape of Nanking is a bit easier to watch then some of the other films on the subject.  The threat of violence and rape is only portrayed in a big way twice.  So the film goes lightly on the viewers compared to the other films.  And yet, it still is a very, very ugly portrait of the Japanese army and its soldiers.  And this film has at least somewhat of an upbeat ending.  Christian Bale (as John Miller) and Ni Ni (as prostitute Yo Mo) were both good in their roles.  Dawei Tong (as Chinese Major Li) was also good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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