The Flowers of War

  • Review Date: January 20, 2012
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 146 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Graphic rape and killing battle heroism and sacrifice.
  • Review Date: January 20, 2012
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 146 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie reminds us that the human spirit can triumph over monstrous evil. Personal redemption is possible even in times of chaos and terror, and unlikely people are capable of feats of honor and sacrifice in spite of past deeds and behavior.

Positive role models

The flawed hero -- a hard-drinking, selfish loner -- is called upon to protect and save victims in a brutalized city. Little by little, he's able to rise to the task and behave with integrity, courage, and selflessness. The few Chinese soldiers on screen are pure of heart and willing to sacrifice their lives, but all Japanese soldiers are portrayed as evil and barbaric. Two sets of female characters exist side by side in a church compound: innocent convent schoolgirls and women from a brothel who've taken refuge there.


Many violent sequences include battle scenes and their bloody aftermath, as well as several graphic sexual assaults. Innocents flee from gunfire, bayonets, and automatic weapons. Both soldiers and civilians are savagely attacked. There are point-blank shootings, piles of bodies (children, adults, soldiers), gruesome injuries, and explosions in slow motion hitting their targets. A dozen young girls are in danger throughout, one of whom falls to her death. Two prostitutes are gang raped and murdered by cackling Japanese soldiers.


A major story element is the sexual disparity between convent schoolgirls and young women from a brothel who are forced to hide out together. In contrast to the movie's frequent sexual violence (see "Violence" section), there's some flirtatiousness between two adults and one gentle love scene with kissing and embracing as the couple starts to undress (no actual nudity, but bare backs and shoulders are visible).


Occasional spoken obscenities and swearing (others are translated from Chinese or Japanese in subtitles) includes "s--t," "bastard," "f--k," "ass," "boobs," "hell," "crapper," and "whore."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Initially, the film's hero is a chain-smoking, hard-drinking man. He carries a flask, chugs whiskey and wine, gets very drunk, and passes out. The brothel girls drink wine and smoke.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Flowers of War alternates between scenes of intense wartime brutality and sentimental dramatic moments. The savagery inflicted upon the Chinese in 1937 by invading Japanese troops during the historical atrocity known as "The Rape of Nanking" is graphically portrayed. The threat of rape underscores the entire film, and there are fierce fire fights, grisly shots of dismembered bodies, exploding soldiers, point-blank shootings, and multiple violent sexual assaults on both courtesans and innocent schoolgirls. Occasional swearing (including "s--t," "bastards," "ass," "f--k," "whore," and more) is both heard and seen in subtitles. Characters smoke throughout the movie and drink wine and whiskey; the hero (Christian Bale) is introduced as a hard-drinking man who passes out after getting very drunk. One tender love scene takes place between the hero and a courtesan; there's no nudity, but the characters kiss passionately and embrace as they begin to undress.

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What's the story?

December 1937, Nanking, China. Invading Japanese troops quickly overpower the few remaining Chinese soldiers occupying the city. American John Miller (Christian Bale) -- a self-serving, boozing mortician sent on a paid mission to bury the local Catholic priest -- makes his way through the bullets and piles of bodies to the church compound. He finds George (Tianyuan Huang), a young Chinese boy with responsibility for a dozen convent schoolgirls who are defenseless and terrified. When a group of beautiful young courtesans also seeks refuge in the church -- and the Japanese gain entrance despite the Red Cross banner, which is supposed to protect those within -- John is called upon to be the caretaker, defender, and "father" of them all. As threats of rape and death from the Japanese occupiers intensify, John -- with help from George, the girls, and the prostitutes -- seeks the inner strength, wisdom, and courage to save as many of them as he can.

Is it any good?


With its constantly shifting perspective -- from horrific battle and rape scenes to sentimental episodes of romance, self-sacrifice, and redemption -- THE FLOWERS OF WAR is often repellent and sometimes touching. Though the characters are mostly one-dimensional and cliche-driven, the film is so beautifully shot and the odds stacked so heavily in favor of John Miller and his charges that it's almost a "guilty pleasure" in which the audience roots for, identifies with, and triumphs along with the heroes.

The movie informs viewers that more than 200,000 people were killed in Nanking. It seems clear that the filmmakers were trying to convey how devastating an atrocity this episode in history was. But The Flowers of War tells such an emotionally manipulative story that's so lacking in subtlety and heavy on caricature that it falls well short of its goal.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the very graphic violence in this movie. What were the filmmakers trying to achieve? How did you feel about what you saw? How does the impact of this kind of violence compare to the gore of a horror movie?

  • How historically accurate do you think The Flowers of War is? Why might filmmakers choose to change certain details when telling a fact-based story? Where resources are available if you'd like to know more about the actual event?

  • How did the filmmakers choose to show John Miller's change from scoundrel to true hero? What events influenced that change?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:January 20, 2012
DVD release date:July 10, 2012
Cast:Christian Bale, Ni Ni, Tianyuan Huang
Director:Zhang Yimou
Studio:Beijing New Picture Film Co.
Run time:146 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:strong violence including a sexual assault, disturbing images, and brief strong language

This review of The Flowers of War was written by

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Adult Written byglaice January 31, 2012

reflecting the brutality of Japanese

I think it's a movie which reflecting the brutality of Japanese soildiers when Nanking is occupied by them;
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Parent Written byBoats-n-Hoes January 29, 2012

Misleading Title

I was expecting a movie about pretty flowers. This is not what I had in mind.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing


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