FLOWERS OF WAR is the third film I saw this year that I would call a "hybrid foreign film." What I mean is that is is for all intents and purposes a foreign film, except for American involvement that got it made.
I recently reviewed SARAH'S KEY here, which is half in English, and half in German. It stars Kristen Scott Thomas in the English language story. I know the book is in English, but that part is in France, should it be in French? Or if we are going to concede that to English, shouldn't the whole movie be in English, and maybe broaden the appeal of the film to more mainstream audiences? It is a peculiar hybrid, and I'm pretty sure that's one reason the film just didn't work.
I also reviewed IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY here, which is completely in Bosnian languages with Bosnian actors. Of the three films, this one works by far the best, and part of it is the reality that choice provides. The "hybrid" here is that director Angela Jolie is a big-name American actress, and without her involvement, the film probably would not have been made and certainly would not have gotten what attention it has.
FLOWERS tells the story of the rape of Nanking through the eyes of a western visitor, Christian Bale, who impersonates a priest in an attempt to protect himself, a group of schoolchildren, and some prostitutes in Nanking. Like Sarah's Key, the part of the film that does not work is everything related to Christian Bale's character. Oddly most of the characters just happen to speak English so many scenes are without subtitles, yet others have them. It is very distracting.
Also oddly, Bale is terrible in this film. This is without a doubt the worst acting he has ever done. It's amazing how good he has been in some films, but this film looks like it was without a director. Also, although there is some violence, the film is less graphic than the Bosnian film, when the actual rape of the city was one of the worst events in all of history. I can't really recommend this film.
I would have to hope that this hybrid thing is just a phase and that we go back to letting foreign films be foreign films.