Directed by the well known Zhang Yi Mou, this movie is fantastic and heart wrenching as it tells a story based on the rape of Nanking. With an absolutely stunning cast, including Christian Bale, and amazing visuals, we dive into the lives of a class of schoolgirls, a group of prostitutes, a young Chinese boy, wounded soldiers, and a white man in the middle of China during a time of war.
John Miller, an American mortician, arrives in Nanking to help bury the head priest at the church. As he tries to get to the safety of the church, he witnesses brutal murders and has to be extremely cautious so that the Japanese do not shoot him as well. Arriving at the church, he finds out that the head priest's body was not to be found after being exploded on by a bomb. Ready to leave, John is convinced to stay by a young boy named George, an orphan who was raised by the dead priest and taught how to speak English. George asks "Father John" to help act as the priest to protect the church and to protect the young schoolgirls who have come to seek refuge in the walls of the church.
Soon a group of flamboyant prostitutes arrive at the cathedral, beautiful and laughing, seeking refuge as well. John agrees to shelter everyone while trying to repair the run down truck in the yard to prepare for an escape. During this time, a young sniper brings his wounded comrade to the cathedral begging them to take care of him as he helps protect the church to the best of his ability for the time being. He sets traps around the entire area to distract and to target the Japanese army. As the prostitutes and the wounded soldier occupy the cellar, the young girls had no place to hide from the Japanese when a group of them came to sexually assault the girls in the cathedral. With the help of the young sniper, who died a hero in the process, many of the girls were okay despite being shaken. Some girls were not so lucky as people did die in the process.
After that incident, a Japanese Colonel comes to apologize on behalf of his men and says that he respects the church greatly. Thus, he offers to protect the church by placing guards everywhere and requests that the schoolgirls sing at the Japanese Army's victory celebration in return. Knowing well that they are demanding more than just the school girls to sing, John declines. However, the Colonel would not hear no for an answer as he blocks the exits with guards and head counts the 13 girls.
The head of the school girls, Shu Juan, knows that this would mean the end for them and convince the young girls that death by suicide will be better than going with the army. In desperation to save the girls, the leader of the prostitutes, Yu Mo, offers to take Shu Juan's place. As a result, all of the prostitutes offer to take the girls' places to protect them from suicide. With John's skills as a mortician, he helps to transform the beautiful women into innocent school girls. However, as there were only twelve prostitutes, George volunteers to go as well sticking to his duty from the dead priest to protect the girls. It was an extremely touching moment as the prostitutes gave their most prized possessions to the young school girls such as -- life savings to buy herself out of prostitution, the mission to help find her beloved cat, and things they want the young girls to keep to return to them one day.
During the time these prostitutes and the young school girls were under the protection of John, John falls in love with Yu Mo. Her sad past, her goals to buy herself out of prostitution, her beauty, her song, and her love to care for those around her attracted John greatly. As the two argue and flirt with one another, they also share deep moments. Sadly, the two are forced to bid goodbye to one another and end their starting love story when the Japanese soldiers arrive the next day to pick up the "13 Flowers of Nanking." John manages to sneak the girls to safety by hiding them in the truck under supplies. However, it is a haunting feeling and more depressing than relieving. Their safety had come at a cost of other people's lives. And these school girls and John would never hear from those beautiful women and George ever again...for the rest of their lives.
It is an amazing movie with great visuals and acting. The plot is also very interesting. I would definitely recommend that you all watch this movie. I would just like to point out that there was a scene where 2 of the prostitutes sneak out of the church to go get lyre strings and earrings from their brothel. While this may seem stupid of them to sneak out during a time of war and rape, I would like to point out that back then certain possessions meant a lot to people. For those girls, the jade earrings must have cost a lot that she couldn't bear to just lose them like that. The other girl did it for her pipa strings broke and she wanted to play for the young wounded soldier who reminded her of her brother. Thus, through this scene, you can see that these women are just like everyone else with valuable possessions that they cherish enough to risk their lives and constantly thinking of their own families back home.
While I enjoyed this movie greatly and expected that things would eventually turn out the way they did as the story unraveled, a lot of people questioned this movie. There was the question of: how do you determine one's life is greater than the others? Why are the lives of these girls worth more than the lives of those women? Is it because those women are not considered pure? How do you decide who lives and who dies and who deserves to live more? These are extremely good questions that got me thinking. George and the women that ended up going in the schoolgirl's place at the end did so to help these girls but after going through so much, do they deserve to go to this condemned fate when even they fear it? Why must they sacrifice their chance to live and themselves for the sake of these schoolgirls? What is the difference between them both? Although I do not have the answers to these questions and often think about it myself, I enjoyed this movie and I enjoyed seeing the courage humans have in a time of war and fear.