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May 29, 2017

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Flowers of War' clichés (金陵十三釵)

The Rape of Nanking, the 1937 rape and murder rampage by Japanese troops, comes so vividly to life in "The Flowers of War" that you wish the great Chinese director Zhang Yimou had a better movie to put in front of it.

Japan, both officially and informally, has spent the intervening 74 years ignominiously denying that this mass slaughter of Chinese women and children in that city ever happened. A great historical film using it as a backdrop is overdue.

But while the filmmaker who gave us "Ju Dou" and "Raise the Red Lantern" presents a visual epic of a city reduced to black rubble and grey ash, the cliché-riddled story of a cynical American (Christian Bale) ennobled by the task of rescuing helpless convent schoolgirls is an epic eye-roller.

Based on the Yan Geling novel, "Flowers" begins with the last gasps of the battle for the city. Civilians are fleeing and the heroic Major Li (Tong Dawei) leads his band of soldiers in a last-ditch effort to save them from the marauding Japanese. The combat scenes have the verve of an action film or a first-person shooter video game.

This is all too real. For every child Major Li saves with his sniper rifle, half a dozen others die.

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