"The Flowers Of War" (金陵十三釵) is famed director Zhang Yimou's and China's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards (which "A Separation" won, by the way). Based on a novel by Yan Geling, which incidentally is great material for a screen adaptation, the narrative is so compelling that its length of two hours plus flew past unknowingly.
Perhaps, the credit must also goes to the director for his controlled pace throughout the film. His attention to detail, use of rich images, sharp colour contrast, intuitive camera work are some contributing factors that kept this audience's eyes glued to the big screen.
Overall, the performance of the cast is commendable. I guess, by having the actresses speak in a dialect most of the time, which wiki proposes to belong to Nanjing, where the film is set during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, fascinated this audience into thinking how they seemed to be of another world. Hence, their deeds are seemingly out of this world beginning with a American thuggish mortician, John Miller (the obvious audience-pleaser Christian Bale still fresh in my mind from his Best Supporting Actor's role in "The Fighter"), the reluctant hero who has a chance to leave Nanjing and its atrocities of war, but chooses to protect the safety of a convent of schoolgirls instead.
But I realised at one point that the film is really about the heroics of twelve local prostitutes led by Yu Mo (a shining newcomer in Ni Ni) hiding in the convent, and the convent priest's adopted son, George Chen (Huang Tianyuan), in their ultimate sacrifice for the girls. They are a great bunch of characters, really, and provide plenty of humorous moments, as at first, they too struggle to cope with the reality, how their own lives hang by a thin thread. It takes the brutality of war to show what the toughest women are made of, I guess, and shame most men.
All in all, an emotionally rich ride. With thanks for OMY for the invitation.